Today, I had the pleasure of visiting Clinton Elementary School in Lincoln to celebrate the launch of a truly innovative event known as “The Crunch-Off.”

Nebraska schools, along with our neighbors across the Midwest and the Mountain Range, are competing to see who can bite into the most crunchable fruits and vegetables, hoping to highlight the great local farmers and producers who feed America. This initiative is part of the federal Farm to School Program, seeking to better child nutrition and stimulate local economies. Clinton Elementary School is one of the schools participating.

I watched as the diverse, excited faces of the little children at Clinton filed into the cafeteria. It was noisy. The atmosphere was electric with a sense of anticipation. One boy asked, “Are these apples real?” When the enthusiastic program coordinator put on her red apple nose, the room grew quiet. We all counted down––“5, 4, 3, 2, 1!”––and crunched into our apples. Then we all shouted together, “Happy Crunch Day!”

One of the exciting aspects of Farm to School is how it not only feeds school kids but also teaches and inspires healthy food choices while helping children understand the provenance of their food. A nutritional, novel, and locally sourced school lunch menu can also keep our students alert and inquisitive throughout the day. A hungry child cannot learn well.

The Farm to School Program is a fairly new initiative. I successfully worked to expand the program in an earlier Farm Bill. Currently, over 23 million students at over 42,000 schools are involved in Farm to School programs, including many, like Clinton Elementary, right here in Nebraska. As an example, if a school wants apples, the federal government has a process to connect the schools with local apple orchards. The program is approaching $1 billion in economic impact for local producers across America. It’s an amazing way to keep alive the relationship between what we eat and who we are.

In the House of Representatives, I am working on two bills that will build on this important program by creating further economic opportunities for our nation’s farmers, ensuring our children have access to healthy, quality meals, while connecting the rural to the urban and the farm to the student. H.R. 3526, the Farm to School Act increases the grants available as well as the size and scope of projects; prioritizes grant applications that engage beginning, veteran, and other underserved farmers; helps high-need student populations; and increases access among Native schools to farm-fresh and traditional foods, especially from tribal producers. H.R. 3220, the Kids Eat Local Act, will bring more local food into school cafeterias without raising the cost of school meal programs, while also removing burdensome red tape to make it easier for schools to flexibly source local food.

The Farm to School program feeds kids, teaches kids, and inspires kids about local, nutritious food and farm life. I am very happy that the children of Nebraska will continue to benefit from this program and that our schools are embracing this opportunity to teach young people to “know your farmer, know your food.”

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