Burlington School District Lunch Program to Serve as National Model

Burlington, Vt. – Senator Patrick Leahy announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has selected the Burlington School District as one of 15 school districts nationwide that will be visited by the USDA Farm to School Team to learn about Burlington’s farm to school program. Burlington will be used as a national example for how Farm to School programs help to better connect children to their food and create opportunities for local farmers to provide their harvest to schools in their communities.

In February, Leahy introduced Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to Burlington Schools Food Service Director, Doug Davis, when the Senator hosted a roundtable discussion in his Burlington office with nutrition and hunger leaders in the state.   Leahy last year brought U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to visit the Lawrence Barnes Elementary in Burlington, where Duncan learned about the school district’s partnerships with local farmers to provide healthy, locally grown foods and listened to teachers, parents, and students talk about challenges they face.

The USDA Farm to School Team  is hoping to learn how successful Farm to School Programs first began, how relationships with farmers were cultivated, what obstacles were faced, and what the effects have been in the schools and the community. These visits are a part of Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative to create new economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers by better connecting consumers with local producers.  Restoring the link between consumers and local producers brings new opportunities for farmers that help to generate wealth, keeping money in rural communities,  creating a greater focus on sustainable farming practices, and helping consumers gain access to healthy, fresh, and locally grown food.

As Leahy said a March letter of support for the Burlington School District to Secretary Vilsack I believe that the Burlington School Food Project is an excellent choice for the USDA Farm to School team to visit.  The community-wide effort in Burlington to enable farms and food distributors to effectively gain access to their local school is remarkable, as is the communication taking place between stakeholders in Burlington.  I believe that the USDA Farm to School team will be impressed with this project.”   Leahy introduced a new Farm to School bill in March, which was incorporated into child nutrition legislation that was approved in committee last week.

The Burlington School Food Project began in 2003, and has steadily expanded over the past seven years with strong support from the district administration, the school food service director, local farmers, parents, students, teachers, and a wide array of community partners.  The Burlington Schools Food Service Program works with more than 20 local farmers to purchase fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy products, and bread.  It also collaborates closely with staff, farmers, students, and other community volunteers to develop new recipes and provide training opportunities for food service staff.

The farm to school movement also fits into emerging strategies to counter childhood obesity, such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign, which is focused on helping kids to make smart and healthy choices in their own lives. With more than 30 percent of American children obese today, the risks to children’s health are also risks to the economy, with the billions of dollars spent each year treating obesity-related conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

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