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More schools are getting their students to be locavores; that is, more schools are serving meals with locally grown food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture tracks this and says the higher numbers are good, that when schools make an effort to do this children eat better. NPR's Dan Charles reports.
DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: Around 9 o'clock this morning, a truck arrived at DC Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. It dropped off cases of vegetables that will end up on the lunch trays at 10 different schools around the city. Amy Bachman is in charge of buying that food.
AMY BACHMAN: Broccoli, kale and sweet potatoes, all from Kirby Farms.
CHARLES: Kirby farms is where?
BACHMAN: Kirby Farms is in Mechanicsville, Va.
CHARLES: That's two hours away but close enough to be called local. Bachman looks for local food partly because there's a D.C. law requiring them to serve it to help support local businesses. But also, her organization wants to do this.
BACHMAN: For us, it's also really about getting the kids to eat more and to get kids to want to try food and get kids interested in food.
CHARLES: It helps, she says, when they can tell a story about that meal.
BACHMAN: These sweet potatoes came from Kirby Farms and, you know, this was just down the road in Virginia and trying to get more of that connection involved.
CHARLES: All across the country, you can find school districts doing similar things for similar reasons. The USDA even has a farm-to-school program to support this trend. Here's Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
TOM VILSACK: There's universal interest in this and that's why we've seen dramatic increases in sales and why we think there's still a lot of upside potential for this.
CHARLES: The agency announced today that at last count, tens of thousands of schools spent $600 million on local food. That's up almost 50 percent from two years earlier. And the schools that bought local claim that their kids ate healthier meals and threw less food in the trash. Amy Bachman at DC Central Kitchen says in her experience buying local food does not take more money, but it does take more time.
BACHMAN: You're not buying just from one vendor. You're buying from - you know, we work with 20 to 25 different farms.
CHARLES: Managing all those different delivery schedules, matching produce and growing seasons with menus takes a lot of planning. That may be why local food still makes up only a small part of the average school meal. Fewer than half of the school districts that responded to the USDA survey have any kind of local food program. And many of those that do do not spend many of their food dollars on produce that grew close by. Dan Charles, NPR News.
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