Local foodies are cheering the news that Wisconsin lawmakers this week passed legislation that will help bring local farm products to school lunchrooms.
The Assembly passed AB 746, which creates a statewide council to coordinate the process of selling Wisconsin-grown products to schools. The Senate concurred on the Farm-to-School initiative which is cheering news to Wisconsin farmers and advocates for more fresh foods on school menus.
Meanwhile, a newly released report from chef Beth Collins and Lunch Lessons about Madison's school meal program says the Madison school district's food service facilities, staff and organization pose no barriers to putting healthier, less processed food on kids' plates at school. But district budget woes and time constraints, plus the lack of a well-focused plan, still pose significant hurdles to upgrading what kids eat at school.
Still, with national food activist Collins reporting that the district doesn't need to invest money in a feasability study to get better food on the school menus here, local advocates are hopeful that it's just a matter of time, organization and, of course, money before kids will be munching on more fresh, whole and local foods in Mad-City.
Here's a link to the complete Lunch Lessons report, which was posted on the district's website Tuesday.
"I'm cautiously optimistic, but especially in this budget environment I'm afraid it's going to come down to money," says Patricia Mulvey, a local personal chef, healthy food advocate, parent and member of the Madison School Food Initiative.
Mulvey has been part of the MSFI study group that's been meeting since last summer and helped bring Collins to Madison for several days in January. Collins has worked with her partner, Ann Cooper, who's known as the "renegade lunch lady" in a nationwide campaign to bring healthier food to school meal programs. It's a subject that stirs passion among plenty of parents, local chefs and food activists, including the REAP Food Group and a parent-based group known as Madisonians United for Nutrition for Children's Health (MUNCH).
In the past, I've written about school food, Collins, as well as what's commonly on the menu in Madison schools and how it tastes.
According to Mulvey, the Madison district's food service team is excited about a newly launched, two-month pilot project at Olson and Lindbergh elementary schools. The program features a "food-based" USDA-approved menu rather than the current "nutrient-based" model, and kids are apparently gobbling up things like bean burritos, fresh fruit and vegetable sides and roast beef wraps.
"What remains to be seen," Mulvey notes in an e-mail, "is what happens to food costs at the end of the two-month trial. My hope is that an increase in participation (apparently the teachers are even choosing to eat this!) will help offset what is clearly a higher food and labor cost than chicken nuggets and tater tots."
I'd be interested in hearing from readers about what they think about improved food choices during really bleak budget times.