Tester, Vilsack discuss Farm to School

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle

by Michael Gibney

Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack “saw every tree in Montana” during their effort Saturday to promote a collaborative approach to forest restoration and job creation in the state.

After stops in Helena and Deer Lodge, they sat down in front of a crowd of more than 100 people at Longfellow Elementary School to discuss the Farm to School program, which is designed to bring healthier foods and an understanding of local agriculture to schools across the country.

“The farm-to-school movement offers new income opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers in addition to supporting offfarm jobs in rural America while giving children the opportunity to eat healthy, local fruits and vegetables and learn to be healthy eaters,” according to USDA press release.

“The program is intended to bring the farm to the school, to   help the kids understand the connection between hard-working ranchers and the food on their plates,” Sec. Vilsack said.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the importance of the program and address its successes and challenges.

One of Sec. Vilsack’s main points was that the United States has the best farmers in the world, but that rural communities need help to overcome economic challenges.

Longfellow Elementary recently received a prestigious bronze award in the USDA’s Healthier U.S. School Challenge, which garnered high praise from both the senator and the secretary.

“We’re dealing with the best of the best, here,” Sec. Vilsack said. “It’s an indication that these folks   are taking it very seriously.”

Sen. Tester promised he would be taking the conversation to Congress “We want . these kids to have the best possible food they can,” Sen. Tester said. “But we need to talk about this issue and do something to make it happen.”

They both stressed the correlation of nutritious meals and school performance.

“I want these kids to have a great start because they’re facing some tough competition,” Sec. Vilsack said. “It’s very important that we empower our senators to go in and talk about this issue.”

Superintendent Kirk Miller had high praise for the town’s response   to the issue.

“I’m encouraged that so many people turned out to support our children, because they’re also our future,” Miller said. “Healthy foods and nutrition are things that need to happen.”