HOW AND WHY PARENTS
ARE GETTING ORGANIC
During 12 years of school, a child consumes more than 2,000 lunches and snacks. Sadly, all too often kids say school food tastes bad, and parents worry that it's unhealthy. But things are now changing for the better: Many parents and educators are working together to redesign school food programs. They're including organically grown food, free of harmful pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. Organic is also grown in ways that protect water quality and wildlife and ensure healthy soil. Even if not organic, locally grown food is lower in post-harvest pesticides than food shipped long distances, and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) involves reduced pesticide use.
In Manhattan, several Mothers & Others members have gotten their children's private schools to change menus, using more organic produce and milk free of bioengineered growth hormone (rBGH). Many of these schools contract food service to an outside company, such as FLIK International Corp., which provides meals in about 40 schools in the greater New York area. FLIK proved eager and able to work with food suppliers. "We were buying in volume, which helped us get the producers to change," Eileen Coughlin Sherry, district manager at FLIK, says.
This year, students of The Ross School in Long Island, NY, are eating a new kind of lunch. Ann Cooper, chef and author of Bitter Harvest: A Chef's Perspective on the Hidden Dangers in the Food We Eat (Routledge, 2000), was hired to plan healthier meals based on local, seasonal and organic foods. As a graduation requirement, students are expected to plan and produce one meal. "The closer we can get to understanding how and where our food is grown, the more likely we'll understand the impact of that production on our health and the environment," Ann says.
This approach is meeting with success in some public schools, too. The Community Food Resource Center (CFRC) in New York City has developed CookShop, a program that gives children hands-on cooking in the classroom and teaches them how food in their region is grown. Food service staff is encouraged to purchase and highlight regionally produced foods. CFRC and Mothers & Others have worked together to encourage NYC public schools to purchase CORE Values apples, grown by Northeast farmers who are certified in IPM.
One obstacle, they discovered, was that NYC schools, like many throughout the U.S., receive free apples from Washington and Michigan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program. Not only is it hard to compete with free produce, but local growers often can't even offer volume discounts--they simply don't have the volume. "Many local producers are small farmers," says Henry Biagi, director of food service for the Somerville Schools in Massachusetts.
Flexibility in buying and menu planning helps. "We ask our suppliers to give us [weekly] lists of organic produce that isn't much higher in cost than the conventional. When it's comparable, we buy organic for the week," FLIK's Eileen Coughlin Sherry says. The next step: Changing the food system by getting USDA to pay for foods that smaller, regional growers can provide to public schools.
WHAT YOU CAN DOJoin forces with other parents. In June, 1999, Leesa Nopper formed a coalition with other Montana mothers to demand rBGH-free milk in their public schools. After letters and calls to administrators and school board officials, schools in Billings and Bozeman require that milk by rBGH free.
Educate teachers, staff, administrators, other parents, and students."FLIK had a day-long seminar early on in the program for school food directors and chefs. Vendors explained what organic agriculture and rBGF-free [milk] mean," and provided children with educational materials, Coughling Sherry of FLIK says. This summer, parents and school food buyers were invited to a CORE Values farm.
Start slowly and be flexible. Instead of demanding an entirely organic menu all at once, start with the foods that kids eat most. Try pushing for organic or rBGH-free milk and organic or IPM apples and carrots.
Work with food service staff, suppliers and distributors to find affordable organic, IPM and local food. Distributors and suppliers can help overcome administrators' assumption that organic foods will be too costly or unavailable year-round.
Write to USDA, asking that they include organic and regional foods in the National School Lunch Program. Address your letter to Sec'y of Agriculture Dan Glickman, USDA, 14th & Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250.
Certified organic means that food has been grown naturally with no synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Transitional organic means produce is being grown organically during the 3-year period required before certification.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) seeks to control pests and disease without using toxic chemicals except as a last resort. IPM relies on natural predators to eat pests.
Locally/regionally grown foods are fresher, riper and more free of post-harvest pesticides and preservatives, because they're not shipped far.
Written by: Aisha Ikramuddin..
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