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Our View: State should not cut Farm to School
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A proposal from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's office to eliminate management of the Farm to School program is short-sighted and detrimental to one of the most successful food programs offered in the kitchens of schools in America's Dairyland.

The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that Walker is proposing to eliminate the state coordinator's position for the Farm to School Program and its 15-member advisory council.

Farm to School is a program that helps local school lunch programs purchase produce, meat and other food products from nearby farms and use those ingredients in school lunch programs. Farm to School has enlivened the role students play in developing the school lunch programs where they are enrolled.

The most successful Farm to School program is in Vernon County, where virtually all of the high schools have adopted Farm to School practices. One of the biggest events of the year for the students in Vernon County is a "Harvest Challenge" in which a team of students, mentored by local restaurant chefs, produce a school lunch that meets all of the federal and state nutritional requirements while trying to keep the per-pupil price at $1 per meal.

Vernon County is one of the state's poorest counties, but it is propped up by having the highest number of organic farms among all 72 of the state's counties. In 2016, Farm to School in Wisconsin was operated in about 20 counties with about 40 school districts participating individually and another 60 participating through their Cooperative Education Service Agencies.

Farm to School has literally changed menus in the schools it serves with locally-sourced food regularly being served in lunch meals that have been designed by students and their chef-mentors.

The move to eliminate the administrators of the program is puzzling considering that in 2016 the state's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection helped add AmeriCorps volunteers to the Farm to School program. Those volunteers were coordinated by the state program coordinator, the position which the state is looking to eliminate.

Eliminating the Farm to School coordinator and advisory council would save just $133,000 in the state budget. What a pittance for a program that generated $9.2 million in sales to Wisconsin farmers in 2015 - money spent by school districts to agricultural interests in their own communities.

Cuts aimed at the Farm to School program seem leveled at nationwide farm-to-table movements that involve farmers markets, community supported agriculture and locally-sourced food being available to local residents. These institutions thrive while constantly fighting battles against Big Ag. Eliminating money for Farm to School plays into the hands of third-party vendors, which sometimes are hired by school districts to administer school lunch programs. The third-party vendors have profits in mind ahead of supporting local small agriculture and the farm-to-table movement.

If Wisconsin citizens could go to the grocery store and ensure the food they buy comes from the farms surrounding where they live, they would consider that an advantage to living in Wisconsin. Why are we eliminating funding for a state program that's focus is to give that same advantage to our school children?

Walker's proposal doesn't support his mission to add jobs in Wisconsin and it certainly doesn't support Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch's efforts to ensure Wisconsin properly trains the state's next generation of workers. Our state will need people in the food service industry who have experience in working with local vendors to serve local food to residents.

The proposal to eliminate the coordinator's position for Farm to School and the program's advisory council is contrary to the goals of all parties involved. It should be abandoned for healthier budget choices.