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Oklahoma lawmakers push to load school lunch trays with produce from local farms

Cooking for Kids school lunch enrichment program in Lomega Oklahoma. participating schools are working with OSU nutrition experts, local chefs, and producers to improve the taste, appearance, quality and nutritional value of food served in school lunch programs across the state.
Todd Johnson
OSU Agricultural Communication Services
Sen. Jessica Garvin, proposed Senate Bill 1473, a measure that would offer grant money to farmers who sell their produce to their local school districts.

Sen. Jessica Garvin’s Senate Bill 1473 would provide grants to help farmers grow more fresh produce, and encourage local school districts to buy it from them.

“As we know, there is so much data that shows that students are hungry in Oklahoma,” Garvin said. “The best way for us to help improve their educational outcomes is to invest in school meals.”

Garvin’s bill passed through the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee with a 10-1 vote and can now be heard on the Senate floor.

Because of a procedural move, the bill will need to come back to the House after going through the Senate. That also means it could fundamentally change. Garvin’s colleagues expressed concerns about the cost to the state for implementing the program and potential overlap with already existing programs that connect farmers to schools.

She said establishing a robust farm-to-school program requires another bill she filed this session, Senate Bill 1363, to pass the Senate Appropriation Committee.

Together, the Farm to School Act and the Thrive Act, as she calls the bills, would allow the agriculture department to directly assist the most in-need schools and the farmers supplying them.

Garvin’s bills aren’t the only ones aiming to better connect schools and farmers.

A handful of measures, most of which were introduced last session, are working toward that end this year.

House Bill 1840, Rep. Dell Kerbs, R-Shawnee: Transfers the responsibility of school food programs from the state education department to the Department of Agriculture.

The bill is similar to a 2022 bill that Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, co-authored alongside Kerbs. Pugh said that while he hasn’t yet seen the bill his colleague authored this session, he supports the move.

He said the goal of his proposal two years ago was to streamline the administration of school lunch programs by putting them under the purview of the state agency tasked with feeding Oklahomans. Kerbs' bill this year carries much of the same language.

Concerns about this bill also include worries about its cost and implementation, which would include transferring about 30 employees from one agency to another.

Lawmakers are also considering an expansion of ways to teach students about where their food comes from, too.

House Bill 2258, Rep. Danny Sterling, R-Tecumseh, allows students to choose to take agriculture classes instead of fine arts and still meet curriculum requirements.

House Bill 2321, Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, and Senate Bill 991, Sen. Grant Green: Both bills expand the age and grade level of students who can be taught agricultural topics in schools.

Pugh is chair of the Senate Education Committee. He said he can get behind lawmakers supporting their local economies while addressing the needs of the state’s educational system and workforce.

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Lionel Ramos covers state government at KOSU. He joined the station in January 2024.
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