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Ag committee considers bill to put more local food on school lunch trays

Saying it’s good for farmers, good for rural communities and good for children, Rep. Kristi Pursell (DFL-Northfield) aims to expand funding for a program that helps school districts source their food locally.

She sponsors HF2043, which, as amended, would appropriate $11.35 million in the next biennium for the state’s Farm to School program. The House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee laid the bill over Wednesday night for possible omnibus bill inclusion. 

In addition to increasing the amount of grant money for school districts to serve more Minnesota-grown or raised food, the bill would expand eligible institutions to include early child care centers, fund a full-time program coordinator in the Department of Agriculture, and support regional coordinators to help farmers navigate school nutrition services.

The Farm to School program is a win-win-win, Pursell said. Farmers have a local buyer for their fruit, vegetables, meat, honey or maple syrup; children eat tasty, more nutritious food; and dollars spent locally boost local economies.

Included in the bill is $500,000 for grants to organizations that provide marketing assistance to farmers, helping with things like business plans, institutional food standards and food safety plans.

The program had 122 applications this year, requesting about $5.5 million in food and equipment grants. The state anticipates funding 116 applicants with about $3.5 million from U.S. Department of Agriculture grants and the $800,000 previously appropriated by the Legislature.

The proposal comes as a bill offering universal school lunch is working through the system. Pursell isn’t sure how this might impact the Farm to School program, but said she’d love it if more local produce and meat were in the schools.

Rep. Bobbie Harder (R-Henderson) said she is struggling with the large funding increase that would include adding a full-time position in the Department of Agriculture.

This is not only increasing the size of program, but increasing size of government, she said.

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