National Farm 2 School Network makes a White House visit

Hi all,
 
The National Farm to School Network has been invited to the White House tomorrow (whoohoo!) to attend the first major meeting of the President’s Childhood Obesity Taskforce, and I will be representing for the Network. Below is a draft of my comments including an intro brief, draft commentary that I will be posting on Huffington Post on Monday morning on the home page of their new Food section. Your feedback and comments are welcome and encouraged as always!
 
Thanks,
Deb
 
What we feed our children is finally on the front burner of mainstream media with Newsweek’s cover of Michelle Obama on a mission to curb childhood obesity and TIME’s cover of Jamie Oliver using the lunch room as a battlefield to start a food revolution.
What would you like to tell the President’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity? Build more playgrounds? Reform school lunch? Start a federal food policy council with cross-sector agencies such as Dept of Education and Agriculture at the same lunch table?
 
The Obama administration has continually opened doors for civil society participation in the discourse of creating a healthier generation. There was an opportunity for public comment until March 26, a kid-only Town Hall at the White House on Wednesday, and Friday, a childhood obesity meeting at the White House, with experts and practitioners from across the country. Mrs. Obama will also be hosting members of the President’s Child Obesity Task Force and Senior Administration officials including Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan. Joining the ranks of the 75 students who are Michelle Obama’s most critical stakeholders in her Let’s Move! campaign, I will be taking advantage of the open door into the White House with the below comments:
 
WHITE HOUSE TASKFORCE BRIEF
As advocates aiming to improve child nutrition by encouraging a more direct connection between local farms and federal nutrition programs, the National Farm to School Network was invited to a convening at the White House on Friday, April 9th to discuss avenues to address childhood obesity. As stated in the invite:
 
The convening will be an opportunity for the President’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity to hear from experts and practitioners about the extent and causes of childhood obesity in this country and to gather input for its action plan to solve the problem within a generation, which is due to the President in May. 
 
The gathering will focus on the four objectives laid out in the Presidential Memorandum creating the Task Force (link):
 
(a) Ensuring access to healthy, affordable food;
(b) Increasing physical activity in schools and communities;
(c) Providing healthier food in schools; and
(d) Empowering parents with information and tools to make good choices for themselves and their families.
 
Farm to School programs have the ability to positively impact all of the above, which is why the Centers for Disease Control has singled out Farm to School as part of a community-based solution to the obesity epidemic. Schools are uniquely positioned to reinforce both the healthy eating and physical activity behaviors that vulnerable children need to improve their health in the short and long term as lifelong healthy eating habits are developed.
 
The populations we are serving are school children, grades K-12, who participate in the federally regulated school meal programs. Considering the National School Lunch Program has served 219 billion lunches since its inception, improving the school feeding system can play an important role in turning around our nation’s burgeoning obesity epidemic.
 
Consider the following:
 
Þ      Obesity rates among children have doubled in the last 10 years and tripled for adolescents.
Þ      27 percent of U.S. children are overweight.
Þ      1 in 3 children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes—make that 1 in 2 if the child is black or Hispanic.
Þ      For the first time in 200 years, today’s children are likely to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
 
Thus, Farm to School addresses all of the above by:
 
(a) Ensuring access to healthy, affordable food
An estimated 31 million children eat school food five days a week, 180 days a year, of which 19 million are families with income levels 185% or below the federal poverty line. Among schools with a higher percentage of low-income students, fresh fruits and raw vegetables are served significantly less often as part of National School Lunch Program meals, as reported by Finkelstein, Hill, and Whitaker in “School Food Environments and Policies in US Public Schools.” For some low-income children in food insecure communities who depend on school food for more than half of their daily calories, every calorie counts, and it is imperative that the calories served are healthy ones. Improving the quality of school meals, and making them accessible to all children, is at the core of the Farm to School approach.
 
(b) Increasing physical activity in schools and communities
Farm to School programs deliver food that not only nourishes children’s bodies immediately, but also provides knowledge that enhances their educational experience and cultivates long-term healthy eating habits, and incorporates outdoor activities through school gardens and farm tours. The simple tool of a schoolyard garden positively addresses six of the eight contributing factors to obesity identified by the CDC. Gardens that engage children provide fresh food choices, encourage physical activity, reduce sedentary behavior, and lead to healthier environments at home, at school, and in the community. 
 
(c) Providing healthier food in schools
Data from existing farm to school programs has shown that in the most vulnerable communities and schools, offering local, healthy products in cafeterias can increase student consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by more than one serving per day.  Programs have also been shown to reduce the consumption of unhealthy foods and sodas. In addition, schools participating in Farm to School programs demonstrate an increase in school meal participation rates in the range of 3% to 16%.
 
(d) Empowering parents with information and tools to make good choices for themselves and their families.
At the family or community level, participation of a school in a Farm to School program can lead to an increased interest and ability among parents in incorporating healthier foods into family diets and guiding children to make healthier choices. Existing programs have been shown to facilitate gains in knowledge and awareness about gardening, agriculture, healthy eating, local foods and seasonality, and as a result bringing about interest in trying out new foods and healthier food options.  With the school as a core for enabling positive changes in the community, farm to school programs also benefit farmers, educators, parents, communities, and the environment.
 
Unlike other nutrition programs, a unique characteristic of farm to school programs is that they benefit not only children, but also our nation’s family farmers and local economies. There is encouraging news when one considers the role farm to school plays in stimulating local economies. An Oregon pilot farm to school program in Portland and Gervais school districts provided an additional seven cents per meal for schools to purchase local agricultural products.  A preliminary analysis by Ecotrust indicated that the $66,000 provided to schools resulted in $225,000 in local purchases, and that for every dollar the schools spent, an additional 87 cents was spent in Oregon.
 
In sum, we can move closer to a healthier generation by moving closer to what is on our children’s trays through programs such as Farm to School. USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack emphasized the significance of support for Farm to School programs in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which the USDA has put a backbone to with a six person Farm to School Team working to link local farms to schools. The National Farm to School Network aims to enable every child to have access to nutritious food while simultaneously benefiting communities and local farmers. It’s a win-win solution just like Let’s Move.
 
Thanks,
Deb

Debra Eschmeyer

IATP and Kellogg Food & Society Fellow
Outreach and Communications Director, National Farm to School Network
Center for Food & Justice, Urban & Environmental Policy Institute, Occidental College

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