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Iowa schools receive a federal grant for local food program

Fresh vegetable cups prepared for the National School Lunch Program at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va.
Bob Nichols
Fresh vegetable cups prepared for the National School Lunch Program at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va.

The Iowa Department of Education has received a federal grant to get more local food in schools and early child care centers.

It’s the second time the department has received the two-year $67,000 grant for the Iowa Farm to school program. The Iowa Department of Agriculture contributes matching funds of around $25,000.

Brenda Windmuller, education program consultant with the Iowa Department of Education, said the department will host more training for school workers on food safety and on how local food could be incorporated into school lunches.

"Our big thing is that we want to make sure that the public is is aware of what's going on, we want to increase the number of schools that participate in Farm to School initiatives, [and] maybe eliminate some of that hesitation around it," she said.

The department is also working on virtual and in-person meetings between schools and farmers. They'll also be working with Iowa State University Extension on creating standardized operating procedures for schools on how to procure and use local foods.

Windmuller said many schools do things, like planting a garden or aquaponics, but there's no requirement to participate. She said they are working on a building a recognition program for schools and that will help the department to keep track of what schools are doing. She added they'll also provide some grants to schools to use to support programs.

"If all you want to do is maybe participate in Iowa, local food day, once a year, that's something that's how you kind of dip your toe in it, learn about it, and then maybe the next year, you can take the next step," she said. "That is our main objective is to get more people engaged in the program, and to increase the numbers of participation across the state."

The Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa received their own grant of close to $100,000 from the USDA to expand the school garden and food storage for early childhood through 12th grade students on the Meskwaki Settlement. They’ll also use the funding to develop a tribal food sovereignty curriculum.

"We are delighted to partner with Meskwaki Settlement School and strengthen one of our local foods structures while emphasizing the importance of the health of our children," Christina Blackcloud, Meskwaki food sovereignty coordinator, said in a news release. "The partnerships bridge much needed actions and voices together while inspiring opportunities for locally grown foods to be more available and supported."

Catherine Wheeler was Iowa Public Radio's All Things Considered host and a reporter from 2021 to 2023.