Oklahoma's Agriculture department will expand avenues for farm-to-school lunches
A new school meal program will allow some Oklahoma school districts to provide more nutritious meals to students by partnering with local farmers and ranchers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Marketing Service has expanded its Local Food for Schools program to Oklahoma through a $3 million cooperative agreement with Oklahoma’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.
The program aims to help select school districts partner with local farmers and ranchers to purchase and serve students locally-grown food in their area.
“We hope that a program like this opens up avenues for students to learn more about where their food comes from,” ODAFF Public Information Officer Lee Benson said. “It could also open up more markets and relationships for farmers and ranchers.”
Doug and Amy Ratzlaff are cattle ranchers in Enid who have recently signed up to participate in the program, but have previously partnered with local schools to serve their beef products through ODAFF’s Farm-to-School program.
While partnering with local schools has allowed them to create new consumer relationships, they’ve also found teaching students about life on their farm rewarding.
“We get an opportunity to talk about raising the cattle on our pasture and the process that it takes to feed them and to care for them,” Amy said. “Even the process of breaking ice in the wintertime and just the production that goes into it, students are very receptive to it.”
School districts must be enrolled in the National School Lunch Program to apply for the Local Food for Schools program. Each qualifying school district is eligible to apply for reimbursement of up to $5,000 for purchasing food from local producers until May 1, according to the application.
Food that school districts purchase from local farmers and ranchers must be unprocessed or minimally processed and grown or raised within 400 miles of the school district to qualify for reimbursement.
ODAFF will also work with Langston University and Oklahoma State University through the Local Food for Schools program to help underserved farmers and ranchers connect with schools in their area. Oklahoma farmers and ranchers can apply to the Local Food Procurement Program to get connected with school districts that apply for the Local Food for Schools program.