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Bill For Colorado Farm-To-School Expansion Takes A Small Step

Jeremy West
A worker prepares school lunch at the Greeley 6 school district's centralized processing facility. Greeley 6 is able to take advantage of locally available foods with the help of the facility.

A bill to expand farm-to-school programs in Colorado initially cleared the state House Tuesday, but it still faces objections from some lawmakers who call it unnecessary.

House Bill 1088 [.pdf] would set up grants to help farms and ranches meet federal safety standards to they could sell their locally produced food to schools.

"This program boosts our economy, it creates jobs, and we have schools right now who want to buy more local food from our farmers and the supply chain does not exist," said bill sponsor Representative Faith Winter (D-Westminster).

While many school districts currently buy from local farms, Winter said some want to do it more frequently and with greater consistency, and other schools aren't using local farms at all.

"This bill is not about promoting farmers, this bill is about promoting healthy choice[s] in eating," said Representative Rhonda Fields (D- Aurora). "What it does is integrates what happens in the farms and they bring it to our schools. I represent a community that has food deserts. We don't have access sometimes to fresh fruits and groceries."

Several Republicans, including Representative Paul Lundeen of Monument, have concerns about the bill's cost. It would fund about a million dollars in grants for the next five years. Lundeen said farm-to-school programs would expand naturally without government interference.

"If we're going to spend public dollars, I would spend them on education, I wouldn't spend them on farmers who are actually already doing what this bill seeks to do," said Lundeen.

Others said there are better ways to tackle the problem of childhood obesity, and don't believe there's evidence the program promotes healthier eating habits.

"The dollars would be better spent on restoring physical education to the students to get them physically fit," said Representative Jim Wilson (R-Salida).

The measure still needs a final vote in the House. It's not clear if it has enough votes to clear the Republican controlled Senate.

Read More: Colorado's Farm-To-School Takes Root, But Challenges Still Abound

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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