MADISON – The Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been named as lead agency in a six-state area for a new national program to encourage schools to serve more locally grown food.

As regional lead agency for the National Farm-to-School Network, CIAS will be the hub for farm-to-school activities in the Great Lakes region, encompassing Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Indiana.

The national network is supported by a three-year, $2.4 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The national network allots funds to the regional agencies with the proviso that its contributions be matched dollar-for-dollar with funds from other sources.

Thanks to a pledge of $30,000 from the Organic Valley Family of Farms, fundraising in the Great Lakes region is off to a strong start.

CIAS is the only one of the eight regional lead agencies to be sited at a land-grant university. This reflects the university’s ability to partner effectively with the community on efforts to encourage the use of locally produced food, says Michelle Miller, associate director of CIAS. One such partnership is the Homegrown Lunch Project, run by CIAS and the Madison-based REAP Food Group, which works with 10 southern Wisconsin school districts to bring locally grown food to children in 39 schools. The project is seen as a model for efforts to bring healthy meals and snacks into schools.

“Wisconsin is a national leader in bringing healthy, locally grown food into school lunchrooms,” says Miller. “This effort will bring healthy food choices into schools throughout the Great Lakes region and create new markets for local, family farmers.”

CIAS was selected as a result of support by a number of groups involved in farm-to-school initiatives throughout the Great Lakes region.

“By serving as the lead agency for the Great Lakes Region, CIAS will build on the grassroots efforts of the many farm-to-school initiatives currently underway, as well as those just getting started,” says Doug Wubben, an outreach specialist in CIAS who coordinates the Homegrown Lunch project.

Part of the funds provided to Great Lakes region will go to the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, which will assist groups throughout the region on issues related to farm and food policy.

The network has created a web portal at
http://www.farmtoschool.org to share information about programs, events, news and funding opportunities. The network is coordinated by the Center for Food and Justice at the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College (www.uepi.oxy.edu) and the Community Food Security Coalition (www.foodsecurity.org).