Local food rubber meets the road

Everybody wants to see more local food being served in schools, senior centers and the like. (Well, everybody except Sysco.) But it’s complicated. With the big institutions our society has come to rely upon for care of young and old people, a friendly little exchange with a local potato grower is not that practical. Your average middle school probably goes through a small farm’s worth of potatoes every week.

In Loudoun County, it seems, local food in the schools is proving difficult. They had a pilot program going that was supposed to bring in local produce–not even from Virginia, but from a farm in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. And the farmer in question was ramping up to meet the schools’ demand, when–just before the start of this current school year–the program was killed.

(An irony of the situation: Loudoun County has a large school system because its population’s grown so enormously, and many of its new residents live on what used to be farmland.)

You’ll have to read the article to get all the ins and outs, but basically the problems are bureaucratic ones. There are contracts that can’t be ended, requirements that are prohibitive to most small growers, and—it seems—a lack of clarity about the program’s goals. It’s a mismatch between the reality of farming and the reality of a big school system.

One hopes to see these things ironed out somehow. It strikes me that our own Local Food Hub is probably a great model for solving some of these problems—at least the ones that have to do with the scale of small farms. Where will we be with these issues, as a nation, in 20 years or so? Will Albemarle County still be an island of somewhat better practices, amidst a sea of Sysco? And what kind of balance will we have between housing and farmland?


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