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LaDuke, son talk to lawmakers on farm-to-school program

Gwekaanimad Gasco, a third grader at the Pine Point School, testified at the state capital on March 27.

The state legislature is considering support for community based agriculture initiatives, local foods and farm to school programs in a bill sponsored by Karen Clark and forwarded to the full omnibus finance bill for addition.

Gasco is one of 75 children at the Pine Point School, which has one of the first farm-to-school programs in the country, and is becoming a regional model of community innovation.

"It is our hope that efforts like the Farm-to-School program will improve the health of the Pine Point community, revitalize White Earth's local economy and reintroduce Anishinaabe food traditions and practices," explained Kyra Busch, program director.

The focus is on replacing some of the foods in the national school lunch program with local foods, as a way to address dietary illnesses, like diabetes and ADHD, as well as create interest in Native and local foods.

The program also supports the regional food economy -- last year, spending over $25,000 on food from local and regional farmers as well employing people in food processing.

Nationally, the school lunch program has come under some fire, for not only providing highly processed foods, which may lack some nutritional value, but as well having foods with high levels of corn syrup and other contributors to diabetes.

In the past few years, several major food recalls have illustrated concerns about national food safety, and industrialized food economies. Included in this concern was a federal beef recall of l43 million pounds in February of 2008.

Much of that meat had been designated for the federal school lunch program. Concerns of mad cow disease and the slaughtering of diseased animals prompted the recall.

While national efforts are underway to provide for food safety, local efforts can support farmers, promote local farming in the next generation (not only by introducing children to farming and gardening, but by providing a market and a future income).

As well, local food economies have been noted to create economic benefits and provide potential solutions in a future with less access to national foods. This is to say, that most meals travel l,500 miles from farmer to table, and as the price of fuel increases, this may become challenging.

Local farmers who have participated in this program in include Wes and Marge Hall, Larry Hoban, Darryl Smith, Lauren and Andrea Haverinen, Patrice and Steve Roberts, John Hinchley as well as many donations, including some recent tomatoes donated from a Becker County hydroponic greenhouse operated by the Skarie family.

The program has received past financial support from the USDA Community Foods Program, and the Catholic and Presbyterian churches, among others.