Capital Clicks

Iowa receives national grant to serve more local food in schools

By: - July 25, 2022 2:37 pm

More crops grown in Iowa will go toward school lunches through the USDA Farm-to-School Grant program. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Iowa schools have more money to serve more locally grown foods in cafeteria meals, financed by the federal and state departments of agriculture.

The Iowa Department of Education received a total of $100,000 through the USDA Farm-to-School Grant, including $25,000 awarded by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The funds will go toward connecting schools with farmers in the area, getting produce and meat to incorporate into breakfast and menus.

This is the second consecutive Farm-to-School grant awarded to Iowa, lasting for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years.

“It’s a win-win when we can assist our schools with providing nutritious and delicious meals to Iowa students while also building demand and markets for locally grown and produced Iowa products,” Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said in a news release.

Alongside the purchase of local food, the grant also covers programming at Iowa schools around sustainability and healthy eating.  Schools can use grant money to bring in a local farmer or a chef to talk with students about how a certain food is grown, and teachers can use it for lessons on how to garden.

Already, state schools celebrate Iowa Local Food Day on the fourth Wednesday of September each year, leading into celebrating National Farm to School Month in October. The events are sponsored by the Iowa Farm to School and Early Care Coalition, a group focused on bringing local foods to schools.

By serving local food, like a muffin made from Iowa corn, students learn lessons like how food is made and why farming is so important in Iowa, the coalition argues.

Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo said these sorts of events, funded by the grant, are a great benefit to schools, students and to local economies.

“Establishing strong local connections with farmers and producers and incorporating fresh local ingredients in school meals impacts student health and learning and helps keep school purchasing dollars right here in Iowa,” Lebo said in a statement.

The Iowa Department of Education is one of 123 recipients of this year’s grants. The Farm to School grant program was established in 2013, and has funded local food initiatives in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.

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