Farm to School: An Open Letter

Dear Members of the Wisconsin Assembly & Senate,

 

As a farmer and former agricultural education instructor, the Wisconsin Farm to School program has greatly impacted my life. In the past I have sold significant quantities of vegetables and meat to both Wood and Portage County Farm to School programs which have been produced on my farm. This income has been instrumental to my farm being able to provide a full time and a part time position (and a living wage), and allowed me to successfully mentor a recent college graduate as she starts her own farming operation. Farm to School has taught me how to work with institutions, and enabled me to foster relationships that have economically and socially benefited my rural business.

 

As a teacher, I fully understood the importance of nutrition and the impact a healthy and balanced diet had on the performance of my students. I worked with the Wood County Health Department to start the Wood County Farm to School program, and it was one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences of my life. Together with my students, we grew over 500 pounds of salad greens for our school district annually, and sorted, washed, processed, and delivered 2000 pounds of gleaned carrots to 6 school districts in Wood County each year for five years. We also delivered programming to over 2000 elementary students and 1500 residents on an annual basis in an effort to increase food literacy in our community. Not only did these efforts help families make better nutritional choices, it engaged our students in maintaining a healthy rural economy as they learned how the food system works.

 

Understandably, rural and urban social and economic issues can differ greatly. One commonality between rural and urban environments, at least from a social welfare perspective, is a distinct lack access to healthy, nutrient dense, and easily accessible food coupled with a lack of food preparation training and nutritional knowledge. According to a study by the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at UW-Madison, we also understand that access to food can be correlated to socioeconomic standing - lower income neighborhoods and rural areas (of which makes up 49% of Wisconsin’s land area and 13% of our state population (Caitlin McKown/UW Applied Population Laboratory 2013). However, the inverse of knowledge and skills to prepare healthy and fulfilling meals is true for middle and upper class population centers as compared to rural and lower class areas. According to a study by the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at UW-Madison, white, middle class populations are less likely to buy organic or whole foods than lower socioeconomic classes due to a lack of training, knowledge, or understanding. Therefore, when addressing the problem of adequate nutrition in our schools and homes across our state we have to be blind to economic status and population statistics and begin to understand that our food system is simply broken.

 

It is frustrating for me to understand how lawmakers could even consider eliminating or decreasing funding for Wisconsin’s Farm to School program. This program makes a difference in the lives of so many people-rich or poor, regardless of legislative boundaries. Engagement in meaningful community development, especially at a young age makes all the difference as we strive to move our state forward.

 

The Wisconsin Farm to School model set a high standard for innovation and implementation and could be considered a gold standard as compared to other states in our nation. If lawmakers cannot get past the social justice aspect of farm to school, then surely they must at least be able to appreciate the fact that a strong farm to school program in our state is directly tied to creating vibrant and strong rural economies across our state. Rural socioeconomic concerns played a prominent role in our most recent elections, and legislators would be mistaken to ignore the significant impact farm to school programming has made on rural economies, especially if they intend to get re-elected to their offices.

 

Wisconsin needs funding for Farm to School programming. It’s that simple.

 

Sincerely,

Joel Kuehnhold

Lonely Oak Farm

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