In 2023 our K-12 school partners purchased over $186,000 in local food through our wholesale program. Out of the 20 partners in that category, it was Saint Loius Park Schools that took the number one spot in total dollars spent on local foods. To celebrate this milestone, we hosted a farm to school lunch at Saint Louis Park Middle School with TGA staff, partners, farmers, and legislators so they could get a glimpse of the amazing work this school district is doing to incorporate local foods into their school meals. We also had the honor of Saint Louis Park hometown hero, Lt. Peggy Flanagan joining us as well as the Senate Agriculture Committee Chair, Senator Aric Putnam.
Of Saint Louis Park’s more than $35K local food purchases made with us, nearly 50 percent was spent on local meat with MN Local Beef and Ferndale Market (turkey). The remaining funds were used to purchase over 20 different product items, which came primarily from farmers of color. Items like carrots from Yee Moua, green beans from Choua Yang, Brussels sprouts from William and Der Thao, and cantaloupe from Javier Garcia are just some of the items that made their way on the lunch line at Saint Louis Park Schools in 2023. They also sourced almost 100 pounds of hand-harvested wild rice from Native Wise, a native-owned and operated business out of Sawyer, MN.
Saint Louis Park, like schools across the state, has seen a dramatic increase in school meal participation since Minnesota’s Free School Meals for Kids program took effect this past fall. Asya Phillips, the Nutrition Services Operations Supervisor for Saint Loius Park Schools shared with the group how the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s AGRI Farm to School Grant program, which provides reimbursements for Minnesota grown and raised food and kitchen equipment that supports farm to school meal prep, has allowed her to incorporate more local food into their school meal program. They were recipients of the grant program last year which got a big boost in funding thanks to the USDA’s Local Food for Schools initiative. Unfortunately, that funding was one-time only and the pool of funds has gone from $4.2 million in Fiscal Year 2023 to just under a million in state funding for the current grant cycle. It’s important to note that even when the grant program was $4.2 million, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture received over $6.5 million in requests, which illustrates just how much demand there is for getting more local foods in schools.
With less funding to support local food purchase reimbursements, K-12 schools will undoubtedly have less support in procuring local food for their menus. As we head into the legislative session, we’re eager to support advocacy efforts that support the AGRI Farm to School grant program which has the potential to create sustainable market opportunities for farmers and food producers all across the state while nourishing kids and enhancing the quality of meals served at the same time.
If you want to see more local food in schools, reach out to your representatives and let them know that this is an issue that is important to you! And stay tuned for updates on ways we and our partners are working together to boost farm to school funding in this year’s legislative session.
Special thanks to talented photographer and TGA board member, Tj Turner, for capturing the photos during our visit.