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Viewpoint: Let's keep Farm to School growing

Sara L. George owns D & S Gardens in Pepin, manages the Wabasha Farmers Market and is a Minnesota Farmers Market Association Board member.

With October being National Farm to School month, I want to express my strong support of farm fresh foods being served in school cafeterias nationwide.

I wear many hats, all of which are connected to local foods. I am vegetable farmer, a vendor at the farmers market, and the manager for the Wabasha Farmers' Market, I work in the kitchen at Harbor View Cafe in Pepin, an vice president of the Minnesota Farmers Market Association, coordinator the Wabasha Food Access Network, am a mother of three and more! These many hats give me a unique perspective to see things that many don't have the opportunity to see.

Back in 2013, Wabasha school food service director Annette Hedquist visited our farmers market. I never even considered the idea of selling to the school, but she encouraged me to take the leap with her. Annette inspired me, but I very soon realized is that it takes a community banding together for long-term success.

With the help of many, we were able to navigate and overcome obstacles that then allowed Wabasha to become the first market to obtain a wholesale food handlers license. What this allows us to do is aggregate produce at the farmers market and deliver it to local schools, hospitals and restaurants. Today, 10 farmers markets across the state are now able to aggregate produce and simplify access to locally grown foods for many types of institutions.

Remember, one visit from a food service director sparked all of this!

Early introduction is key

As a parent, I want my family to eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. I know my kids eat more produce when offered farm fresh because the flavors are so much better. Think about it, fresh beans out of the field are so much better than store-bought canned beans! There are so many vegetables to be enjoyed.

If we introduce these foods to the children at a young age, they are much more apt to continue enjoying them as they get older. It makes me happy to see choices like cabbage and broccoli, kohlrabi and kale being available at our school.

As a farmer, knowing that the fresh produce I am harvesting is not only staying in my own community but that it is feeding children in my community makes me proud. To see these children trying dragon's tongue beans at school and then come running for my booth at the farmers market because they tried these at the school and can't wait to share them with mom and dad, that makes my day.

I am grateful at the progress we've made and the support we've received, but we need our state to increase its investment in innovative ideas like the farmers market aggregation project and the cost-sharing programs it provides to schools to help them access the equipment they need to offer meals made from scratch. It is programs like this that are smart investments that will lead to robust, vibrant community based food system that supports local farmers, local economies, and food that will nourish the children and adults in our communities.

#supportlocalfarms #farmtoschool #healthykids.