With justified concern about childhood obesity and the economic plight of some of Maryland's 12,000 farms, it's a shame that more local produce hasn't gotten to local schools. But a new program for the next school year rightly aims to help by adding more Maryland farm products to school meals.
It's not for lack of trying or interest that produce, dairy and other locally grown fare is scarce in school cafeterias. Many schools simply don't have the kitchen capacity to process and cook large amounts of food. Even though students have been offered more nutritious choices in recent years, such as cut-up fruit or carrots, a lot of school meals come prepackaged and microwave- or oven-ready as a way of managing volume and costs. In addition, federal procurement guidelines make it easier and cheaper for schools to deal with wholesalers, which means that local products are more likely to end up in other states than in schools nearby.
Under a proposed new farm-to-school program that Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to sign into law, the state Departments of Agriculture and Education would try to break down some of these barriers and include more home-grown products in school meals. Students also would learn more about agriculture in class, through field trips to farms and other events.
The challenge will be to provide more farm-fresh products within competitive bidding rules, but the potential rewards of helping local farmers, reducing transportation costs and promoting healthier food choices make this an effort worth undertaking.