State Senator Daisy Lawler said plans are underway for a series of hearings on a program known as Farm-to-School. Lawler said President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan had approved her request for the interim study and said she would begin holding hearings later this month.
Lawler, who chairs the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, said Farm-to-School programs create a mutually beneficial relationship between local farmers and schools. The farmers sell fresh produce to the schools, providing healthy foods to Oklahoma's children while providing educational opportunities about agriculture--one of the state's top industries.
"This program would be an incredible win-win for Oklahomans. It will help educate children about good nutrition, provide them with healthy fresh produce and it would be an important economic boost to our farmers," said Lawler, D-Comanche.
Lawler said the educational programs that are part of Farm-to-School could include school gardens, cooking, nutrition education as well as visits to farms to help teach children about agriculture. She said pilot projects have been a resounding success.
"We currently have six school districts, including Broken Arrow, Edmond, Muskogee, Shawnee, Tahlequah and Tulsa, participating this school year in a Farm-to-School program by serving Oklahoma-grown watermelons for lunch during August and September," said Lawler.
As a result of that program, 4078 Oklahoma-grown watermelons were sold to 148 schools with the volume nearly tripling from a 2004 pilot project.
"There are 545 school districts in Oklahoma that could benefit from Farm-to-School programs and there's evidence to show there's tremendous interest."
According to the Oklahoma Food Policy Council, a partnership between the Kerr Center and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, a survey done in 2002 found that over two-thirds of food managers said they were interested in purchasing produce locally if price and quality were competitive. Items that could potentially be used included tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, lettuce, potatoes, melons and strawberries.
"This could be a tremendous economic boost to our local farmers and that in turn is going to help spur real economic development in our rural areas--something vitally needed to the overall economic growth of our state," said Lawler.
Sen. Lawler also pointed to studies that indicate during the past 30 years, the percentage of overweight children between ages 6-11 has quadrupled, while adolescent rates have more than doubled in the state. She also noted that only 15 percent of Oklahomans eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetable a day, ranking Oklahoma last in the nation.
"We know that heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses are directly related to obesity. This past session we began addressing some of these issues, including the problem of easy access to junk food and children not getting enough exercise. Farm-to-School can complement those efforts, providing children with nutritional food and healthy habits that can last a lifetime."
Lawler said members of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee as well as the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education would serve on the interim study.
"I'm optimistic that when the facts are presented, there will be support for meaningful rural developmentopportunities through the Farm-to-School program. Based on information that we'll gather during this study, I will file legislation for the 2006 session."