By Andrea Abel
When the gavel fell at the end of the Texas Legislature’s 81st regular session, schoolchildren were a little closer to healthier school lunches. Thanks to the passage of SB 1027, a new task force led by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) will establish a farm-to-school program for our public schools, providing local, fresh vegetables and fruit to students and a viable new market for small- and medium-scale farmers.
“I’m thrilled to have passed this bill which has the potential to create lifelong positive eating habits for our youngest Texans,” says Senator Kirk Watson, who authored the bill and sponsored it in the senate. (Representative Tim Kleinschmidt sponsored the bill in the house.) “My hope is that the task force will develop a strong program that school districts across this great state will adopt.”
With a focus on local food systems, the task force will design food and nutrition education resources for schools, assist with technical issues and training, help farmers and ranchers market their harvest to schools and identify possible funding sources to both offset costs to schools and fund the program.
Along with members of the TDA (which administers the National School Lunch Program for the state), the task force will include representatives from the Texas Education Agency, Texas Department of State Health Services, fruit and vegetable producers, nutrition advocates, parent organizations, school nutrition educators and others delineated in the legislation.
The concept for the bill came from Sprouting Healthy Kids (SHK), the Sustainable Food Center’s (SFC) education project designed to bring fresh produce from local farmers into Austin-area, low-income middle schools and to teach children healthy eating behaviors through gardening projects, cooking activities, field trips to area farms and other nutrition education programs.
And while the idea and framework came from the SHK program, SFC’s Andrew Smiley acknowledges the efforts of the Partnership for a Healthy Texas—a diverse coalition of over 22 organizations with a shared mission to conquer obesity and provide advocacy support. The Partnership made it easier to get the idea from a pilot project to the eyes and ears of interested legislators.
“This was an excellent session for nutrition policy changes,” says Michelle Smith, chair of the Partnership’s legislative committee. “While each of our partner organizations has its own specific agendas, all members unite and support bills that are identified as priorities.”
According to Kathy Golson, TDA’s Governmental Liaison for Food and Nutrition, the agency is planning the next steps for the task force—including appointment of members—and anticipates the first meeting to be held this fall.