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Published September 15, 2009, 07:07 AM

Survey planned for locally grown food in schools

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture announced Monday that it plans to survey 11 communities in looking to establish programs that would serve locally produced food to school children. Jamestown, Valley City, Bowdon and Napoleon are among the 11 communities that will receive surveys starting in October.

By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture announced Monday that it plans to survey 11 communities in looking to establish programs that would serve locally produced food to school children.

Jamestown, Valley City, Bowdon and Napoleon are among the 11 communities that will receive surveys starting in October.

“What we're trying to do is to get (students) to learn you can grow food and take care of animals and that’s the natural order of things,” said Sue Balcom, local foods marketing specialist for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.

Balcom will visit each of the communities and survey various business, schools and food producers and see if they are interested in offering locally grown food or expanding production of food, she said. The surveys will be completed by Dec. 12, she said.

“We want to go out and we want to find all the people we can in a community that are willing to participate in working towards local food systems,” Balcom said.

Balcom said she has 10 different surveys geared toward each segment of the community she intends to talk with.

“We’re going to collect the information and if there is a willingness and the infrastructure and the producer and if everybody is willing to work together and cooperate and I can generate some excitement then they're in,” she said. “It will largely depend on how much support I can get from the community.”

Eating local has economic, social and health benefits, Balcom said.

First, by eating local food people are supporting the smaller family farms, she said.

Secondly, activities like farmers’ markets brings people in the community together and instill a sense of pride, Balcom said.

Finally, locally grown food is healthier for the consumer, and the planet, because it is not designed to travel across the country, she said.

“The closer your food is to the earth, and I mean that literally, the more health benefits there are,” she said.

Students may not be aware that the average meal travels at least 1,500 miles, Balcom said. With talk of global warming, purchasing local food also reduces the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, she said.

“It’s not going to be an easy thing to change the way people think about where their food comes from, but we're going to do our best to at least make people think where their food comes from,” Balcom said.

The agriculture department is a partner of the NDSU Extension Service on this project and Balcom plans to work with extension officers when she can, she said.

NDSU Extension Agent Lance Brower already helps people expand their agriculture businesses. Those businesses help the state’s economy because money spent on local food is going to stay in the state longer than money spent on out-of-state food, he said.

Currently Brower is working with a farmer who wants to produce peppers and tomatoes for schools year-round with a geothermal greenhouse, he said.

All seven Jamestown Public Schools are serving locally grown produce for the second year, said Shelley Mack, dietitian and food service director for Jamestown Public Schools.

Mack serves such foods because it is fresher and tastes better than produce shipped in, she said.

“I definitely see an increase in what they’re taking when it’s fresher and tastes better,” Mack said.

This past week students at the public schools have had locally grown cucumbers, cantaloupe, tomatoes, watermelons, green peppers, onions, honeydew and radishes, she said.

Right now four of the Jamestown Public Schools have salad bars and the students are aware the food is locally grown, Mack said.

Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455

or by e-mail at brodgers@jamestownsun.com

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