Yesterday Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan held her second live chat on Facebook. The topic was of the chat was getting food from farmers to local schools, what has become known as “farm to school,” part of the necessary groundwork for improving the cost and quality of school lunches. Merrigan ran into a few technical problems in the beginning of the session, but she filled the time by talking about her recent trips to schools and universities around the country.
Once her computer started working again, Merrigan started taking questions from the people attending the Facebook chat. She answered questions about what schools she plans to visit next semester and about regulations schools have when purchasing food.
Overall the session was very informative and Merrigan appeared to be having fun with it. She was personable and brought props. She was realistic with her answers and she explained her position on the issues.
I learned that schools are now starting to purchase their food for the 2009-2010 school year and that this is a problem for increasing the amount of food school districts purchase from farmers. Small, local farmers are not able to guarantee that they can produce two tons of blueberries next fall. The weather could be terrible and result in poor yields. People selling canned blueberries are not impacted the same way.
Another interesting point that she made was that it would be great to put a calorie maximum on the meals served in schools but this would also take away from the amount of fresh foods purchased from local vendors. Since kitchen staff would prepare more food the portions and measurements would be less exact. Therefore it would be near impossible that every tray served during lunch had the exact same number of calories. For this reason, Merrigan is walking a tight line to balance these two sides.
One of the attendees asked about kitchen equipment. Most school kitchens do not have a lot of equipment to make food. Most schools right now don’t make food, they heat and serve food. Merrigan understands that there is a lot of great equipment out there, but most of it is not in the budget right now. She feels that a salad bar is a great solution to this problem. Salad bars do not require any expensive equipment but they enable schools to service students with fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
I look forward to attending her next Facebook chat in December.
If you missed this discussion or her first one in October please visit Obamafoodorama to see the video.
Also the Twitter hashtag is #kyf2