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Getting New Mexico Foods into New Mexico Schools:
Will It Really Take 20 Years?
Mark Winne, a New Mexico-based food activist, once said that it takes 20 years to build a movement. In considering the work of Farm to Table (FTT), let’s put his theory to the test—with a specific focus on FTT’s efforts to establish and support programs that bring local food into our schools and educate children about food, nutrition and health.
During the last decade, FTT has taken tremendous strides. In 2002, NM was one of the first states to create a Farm to School Memorial that required, through state legislation, the departments of agriculture and education to work together and provide administrative support for farm-to-school efforts. This kind of partnership is crucial, since as farm to school programs engage multiple agencies as they address multiple issues both in and outside the school system.
Complementing this legislative victory were the actions taken by the Santa Fe Public Schools (SFPS) in 2002. After an inspirational visit to the Farmers’ Market Salad Bar in Santa Monica, Calif. Lynn Walters, executive director of Cooking with Kids, arranged a field trip that would forever alter school meals in Santa Fe. Judi Jaquez, director of School Nutrition Services in Santa Fe, Betsy Torres, the Farm to School Coordinatorand Craig Mapel, Marketing Specialistwith the NM Department of Agriculture, accompanied Walters to Santa Monica. This group came back ready to work, and very soon SFPS was offering locally grown produce in school lunches, and baking breads with locally grown organic wheat.
2002 turned out to be a banner year for NM—not only at the state level, but at the federal level as well. The 2002 Farm Bill included funding for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program, which offered free fruits and vegetables to students, outside of meal times (e.g., snack time, after school, on the bus ride home, etc). This pilot began in four mid-western states and the Zuni Tribe in NM. This was a definite coup for NM. US Sen. Jeff Bingaman was largely responsible for NM’s participation.
Together with the NM Food and Agriculture Policy Council (NMFAPC), FTT fought to get junk food out of the schools, and in 2006 NM was one of the first states to take action in support of children’s health by legislating a change in school policies.
One of FTT’s most significant achievements was securing $85,000 in recurring funds to be used at schools in Albuquerque’s South Valley. State Sen. Feldman was key in securing these funds, which were used for purchasing local fruits and vegetables, benefitting over 6,000 students. FTT continues to advocate for additional funding for all NM students to have New Mexican-grown produce on their plates.
In 2011 attempts by the NMFAPC to provide more locally grown fruits and vegetables to the schools and other public institutions made it through the legislative maze, only to have Gov. Martinez fail to sign them. There is a rule of thumb in advocacy work—the first time, you’re educating legislators, the second time, you’re answering their concerns and the third time, you win. Legislative work is not for the faint-of-heart.
Sometimes success is advocating getting back what you previously had. In 2012, one of FTT’s highest priorities was requesting state transportation funds to deliver USDA Donated Foods and other food products to all schools in the state. The irony was that these funds had been inadvertently taken out of the budget. FTT and the NMFAPC spent an entire legislative season trying to correct an administrative oversight. Their eventual success was due, in part, to their partnering with the NM School Nutrition Association on the effort.
While FTT has been in the forefront of statewide farm to school programming and legislation, it has also played a very active role at the federal level. It has consistently supported two legislative proposals relating to farm to school: to allow food service staff to prioritize serving locally grown products; and to establish a competitive farm to school grant program. The good news is that, after eight years of advocacy, both of these proposals are now a reality! The great news is that in 2012 FTT was a recipient of almost $100,000 from the new Farm to School Grant Program.
During the coming years, FTT will expand this work by continuing to:
- Help shape the new federal farm to school grant program
- Advocate for NM-grown produce in all schools
- Support the myriad of educational programs that link students with locally grown produce
- Work closely with food service directors to improve local purchasing practices
- Identify opportunities to help farmers access additional markets
With the success of the past decade and the national momentum that has gathered around farm to school programs and purchasing local food, there are still many challenges to overcome before we can say we have a movement. But we have a great start. So, considering Mark Winne’s theory that is takes 20 years to build a movement—20 years sounds about right.
Marion Kalb organized farmers’ markets in California for 10 years before she co-founded the National Farm to School Network in 2001. Kalb is now a policy specialist with Farm to Table.
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