Missouri offers grants to get more locally-grown food into school cafeterias

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The state of Missouri wants more locally-grown fruits and vegetables to feed school children for snacks and lunches. The Show-Me State is offering grants to get more locally-produced food into school cafeterias.

At an urban farm in Kansas City, Kan., fresh vegetables are grown for people across the metro, including school children. Cultivate KC, a group that works to encourage more people to grow and eat their own food, is expected to start a new farm across the state line on the grounds of the former Westport Middle School.

"Kids, when they have fresh fruit and vegetables, they can come out to the farm and see it growing, they will eat anything," said Alicia Ellingsworth, farm manager for Cultivate KC. "Right off the top, kids love carrots, kids love to pull carrots out of the ground and eat them in their lunches. And even spinach, something like spinach, if it's fresh, kids are going to love it. We grow microgreeens and all kids love cherry tomatoes. We think it's endless, the possibilities are endless."

The goal of the grants is to increase the amount of Missouri-made food served to school students and provide new markets for Missouri farmers. Some have expressed concern that kids may not actually eat healthier meals.

"Eating the local produce will help," said Lisa Farmer, Farm-to-School Academy director for KC Healthy Kids. "I think when you shop at the farmers market you can taste the difference in the produce. And the flavor that comes from something locally grown. I think there are a lot of issues that surround those complaints that parents and other people are having over plate waste."

Schools that don't serve healthier food that includes more fruits and vegetables risk losing federal reimbursements to provide free meals for poor children. The DeLaSalle Education Center already has a federal grant that's similar to what Missouri is now doing. The school has it's own garden, where kids eat what they grow. DeLaSalle also contracts with local farmers who bring in fresh peaches and apples for school lunches.

Missouri is accepting applications for the grants until the end of October. Kansas City Public Schools, Park Hill, Independence and Hickman Mills are among the districts that already work to provide locally grown food to their students.