More schools trying to serve Washington-grown food — but it isn’t easy

Aahh, the Snoqualmie Valley. All that fertile land. All those vegetables. All that …

Wait a minute, parents inevitably wonder: Shouldn’t that blushing-fresh produce be winding up in my kid’s lunchroom?

Tricia Kovacs is here to tell you it is. Or, at least, it is in some schools. Sometimes.

Kovacs is in charge of the state’s Farm-to-School Program, which was created in 2008 by legislation intended to make it easier to get more local food into school cafeterias. In recent years, Kovacs said, more and more schools have been putting Washington-grown food on the menu. Farms, too, are increasingly interested in selling to schools.

Still, while all that produce may be only a few miles away, getting it onto lunch trays is no easy matter. Even proponents concede it can be a logistical feat. And with astonishingly tight lunch budgets, even spending a few more pennies on an apple can push it out of reach.

“The things that are stopping people are real challenges,” Kovacs said. “But we also are learning every day ways school districts and farms have found to overcome some of them.”

One of the biggest changes is in attitudes. It used to be just parents and food advocates were the ones pushing for local food. Today, even the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working on it, with proposed changes to purchasing rules and even farm-to-school webinars to show how it can be done.

“It’s very active right now from the national level down to the local level,” Kovacs said. “It used to feel like the schools needed to be pushed. Now I’m hearing from schools and they’re so excited.”

How many schools serve local food? Numbers just don’t exist — yet (Kovacs said she’s working on a survey).

What she does know, however, is that this year, dozens of school districts on Wednesday will join in on Taste Washington Day, an event organized by Kovacs’ program and the Washington School Nutrition Association. Schools are free to participate, or not. The idea is simply to feature Washington-grown items on school menus.

That’s good for both the kids and the farms, Kovacs said.

First of all, local produce tastes better than something from afar, which means kids will eat more of it, she believes. It also boosts the local economy and helps farmers. read more…