School lunch goes local for a day

Public school lunch is generally a joyless affair: mystery-meat sloppy joes, frozen tater tots, canned string beans that last saw dirt and sunlight sometime in the Clinton administration. But for one glorious day this week, Delaware Academy students in Delhi got real food.

High school students sampled meatloaf, mashed potatoes, vegetable casserole, beet yogurt dip, apple crisp and maple yogurt, all made with ingredients produced within 50 miles of Delhi.

The lunch was presented by Farm Catskills, a not-for-profit membership group that supports and encourages local agriculture with the aim of “building sustainable communities in a working landscape.”

Farm Catskills is seeking to reform a school-lunch system that makes it difficult for schools to serve fresh local food. They're not alone: School lunch is a hot topic at the White House. But it's not an easy problem to solve, as this Washington Post op-ed makes clear.

To reduce costs, schools opt for unskilled workers who don't get enough hours to qualify for benefits. U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations permit schools to trade government donations of surplus farm goods for products full of chemical additives from giant processors. Meal items are designed at the factory to meet government nutrition standards but come out as barely palatable foods that do not occur in nature. Yet schools must induce children to eat the meals in order to qualify for the government subsidies they desperately need to keep their food operations afloat.