Guest Blog Post By, Kate Wheeler, Child Nutrition Specialist, Utah State Board of Education
Kate works on farm to fork and local procurement initiatives. Kate has an MPH from Emory University. Prior to joining the team at USBE, she worked with various food access programs in Oregon, Atlanta, and overseas.
Eating food that is both delicious and nutritious is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, but not all Utahns have equal access to healthy food. 135,000 children in Utah are food insecure, putting them at increased risk of diet-related diseases and stunting their opportunities for learning and growth.
The good news is that this is an exciting time to be working on healthy food access in Utah. Various groups are working on projects that seek to both “feed the need” (provide healthy food options to those who need it now) and “shorten the line” (strengthen our food system to eliminate root causes of hunger).
Start Smart Utah
The Start Smart Utah program is a bill that will provide students with additional access to nutritious food during the school day, including a requirement that all public schools who participate in the national school lunch program also participate in the national school breakfast program. Currently 105 Utah public schools do not participate in the breakfast program—that’s a lot of kids starting their day without a meal. If you’d like to track the progress of this bill in real time, sign up to get updates on HB 222 at le.utah.gov.
Incentivizing Local Food in Schools
Why do schools served canned peaches at lunch when we grow such delicious fresh peaches right here in Utah? Cost is a major factor. Other states have successfully overcome that barrier with incentive programs that reimburse school districts for purchases of local food. Utah Department of Agriculture and Food and Utah State Board of Education are working together to create one of these programs in Utah. We’ve requested $275,000 in appropriations this legislative session to help get it up and running—your help is needed to secure the funding. Click here to find out how you can advocate for this request.
Food hubs are processing and distribution centers that focus on local food. They make it easier for small farmers to work together to sell their products to large institutions like school districts and hospitals. Utah is currently one of only five states without a food hub—but not for long! Sapa Investment Group is set to break ground on Utah’s first food hub this summer, and UDAF and the City of Salt Lake are working on support for additional food hub projects. Here’s to opening more markets for Utah’s small farmers, and making it easier for all of us to buy healthy local food!