Bills look to expand farm-to-school program with private, federal funds

By: - March 9, 2021 2:16 pm

Manure-laden water leaked from a detention pond in northwest Iowa this spring and killed 13,000 fish in a nearby creek. (Creative Commons photo via Pxhere)

The state would set up a special fund to help schools buy local food for their cafeterias under a bill that lawmakers advanced Tuesday.

The legislation, Senate File 359 and House File 482, do not seek a state appropriation. The legislation is meant to build on a successful experiment with $500,000 in CARES Act money last year that saw more than 100 schools buy goods from local farms and other sources, lawmakers said.

The fund would accept donations from private sources, and federal grants, along with any future state appropriations. 

“The main goal of this is to create a fund within the department where we can accept private sources (of money) to help schools pay for local produce and meat products that they can then serve to students,” said Colin Tadlock, lobbyist for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. “We think it’s a win-win for farmers and schools. It helps kids know where their food comes from while also creating a new market for farmers.”

The measure brought an unusual alliance between the GOP majority and environmental groups, which often are on the opposite sides politically. Among those supporting the bills were the Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club and the Iowa Farmers Union. 

Pam Mackey Taylor, director of the Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club, supported the new state account. “I think it’s really important to encourage the farmers to produce things that can be used by school children and I think it’s a good source of healthy food for the children,” said Taylor, of Marion.

Jim Obradovich, lobbyist for the Iowa Honey Producers Association, said the legislation would help connect students to Iowa’s landmark agriculture industry.

“What it does is it helps create the connectivity between the farmer and agriculture in Iowa and the students,” Obradovich said. “Hopefully that begins to foster a greater, deeper appreciation of what we have in the state.” 

Editor’s note: Obradovich is married to Iowa Capital Dispatch Editor Kathie Obradovich. His involvement does not affect Iowa Capital Dispatch’s news judgement or reporting.

Lawmakers in 2007 established a Farm to School program under the agriculture department. The program uses a directory and a database to connect schools with suppliers.

The House Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved the new legislation Tuesday. A Senate subcommittee also advanced the bill. 

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.