March 17, 2010

Farm links local growers, school lunch programs

ISAAC KESTENBAUM

— By

News Assistant

Rippling Waters Farm in Standish would like to see more local food in schools.

Rippling Waters has invited nearly 60 other farms to meet with the food service directors in School Administrative Districts 6 and 55 on Monday in anticipation of Maine Harvest Lunch Day, when students eat meals made from local crops.

''It's a way to begin to establish a dialogue between farmers, local food producers and supervisors for the school lunch program,'' said Richard Rudolph, executive director of Rippling Waters, a nonprofit farm operating on 12 acres of land.

Although Maine Harvest Lunch Day has been held each fall for several years, Monday's meeting is part of a larger effort by Rippling Waters to link farmers and consumers.

Last year, the farm received a grant of slightly more than $244,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Community Food Projects Program. The money is for a three-year effort that Rippling Waters calls Saco Valley Food Connections.

''What that grant is enabling us to do is more educational work and food security work,'' said Rudolph. ''We're putting in gardens at two different school sites and two different senior housing complexes. We're also running a high school apprenticeship program and we're going to be giving 20,000 pounds of food away to food pantries.''

The grant also has helped the farm increase the number of volunteers it can handle.

The efforts will be concentrated in the SAD 6 area, which includes Buxton, Hollis, Limington, Frye Island and Standish.

At its core, the Saco Valley Food Connections project aims to ''break down the distance between consumers and the food that they eat,'' Rudolph said.

The project and the school lunch day reflect a growing interest in buying local foods, said Rudolph.

''A lot of food that's brought into the state is from 1,500 to 2,000 miles away,'' he said. ''That's not particularly fresh, and a lot of nutrition has already been lost.''

Rising oil prices will also make importing food more expensive, Rudolph said.

Rudolph hopes Monday's meeting will lead to ''a long-term partnership between area farms and local school districts.''

He said he hopes to get teachers involved to show students that ''buying local and using local ingredients makes sense.''

Rudolph is a former educator; he taught at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

''It makes entirely good sense not only to farm, but to try to educate people about these important issues,'' he said.

News Assistant Isaac Kestenbaum can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:

ikestenbaum@pressherald.com

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