School lunches have traditionally been the punch line of innumerable food jokes. But recent trends in some Minnesota school districts indicate that cafeteria fare is no longer a laughing matter. With lunch menus now listing locally grown entrees as the choice du jour, not only will students have the opportunity to eat fresher food, but their purchases will help bolster regional economies that are starving for new economic activity.
A recent study by the University of Minnesota has found that farm-to-school programs can inject approximately $20,000 into the regional economy if each school in the district served just one locally grown meal a month. While $20,000 is relatively small for a multi-million dollar economy, the economic activity increases as schools offer additional farm-to-cafeteria meals. In fact, the report found that large purchases in the study area would generate more than $400,000 in annual economic activity.
For a state in dire need of tax revenue, programs like the farm-to-school initiative are a huge boon for local, regional, and state economies, especially if the program diverts money away from national food distributors that siphon money to other states. The direct, indirect, and induced spending generated by the farm-to-school model will generate tax receipts that can help fund one of our state’s highest priorities — education.