School lunch programs around the country are getting makeovers. The National Farm to School program states that a fresh produce movement started about 10 years ago in a few California schools and has grown in a 39 state program with over 2,000 school districts as members. According to the National Farm to School program website, the National Farm to School program "connects schools with local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving school nutrition, providing health and nutrition opportunities that will last a lifetime, and supporting local farmers."
School districts are not only looking for local foods, but they are also looking for organic. For example, a school district in Olympia, WA has implemented a junk food ban and is recommending organic foods in their cafeterias. Unfortunately, cost is the single greatest hurdle to implementing organic programs in more schools. Generally, organic foods cost more for farmers to produce (hence greater cost to the schools) due to annual organic certification costs as well as expensive pest control and fertilizing methods because cheaper synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are prohibited in organic farming.
To help farmers off-set annual organic certification costs, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of the USDA has implemented a cost-share assistance program for farmers in all states, US territories, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The AMS has allotted $1.5 million in fiscal 2008 (October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2009) for this program. According to the USDA, the money is predominantly geared toward smaller farms so that they will be able to meet the standards developed by the National Organic Program. The assistance will be limited to 75% of an individual producer's certification costs with a maximum of $750.
As a farmer, have you thought about growing organically but the cost of annual certification makes your production unprofitable? Do you think the cost-share program will be a big help to farmers or do you think it's not that big of a help? After reading about the school lunch program, do you think you could market your products to local schools?