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Schools seek more local grown products for their lunch programs

Date Posted: 2009-08-13

School lunches are a big business, and dieticians at schools across Okinawa are trying to make menus filled with healthy, nutritious foods grown locally.

Kitanakagusuku Village spends roughly ¥78 million on foods each year, with 8.3% of the foods purchased coming from local neighborhoods. Village leaders say they spent ¥6.5 million with local farmers last year, and would buy more from the local area if products were available. “It is very safe for students, because we can see who’s making the foods the children eat for lunch.”

The local village office worries about the stability of local food productions, and says the problem is not limited to only Kitanakagusuku. Every municipality, it says, has the same problem. There simply aren’t enough farmers, and those farmers providing food to local school districts are small enterprises. Some, says one official, don’t do the farming as a business, but for health reasons or as hobbies.

Children insist they like the locally grown foods, including seaweed and goya, and particularly like foods actually grown in their own towns or villages. The school districts are buying foods direct from farmers, which they say is saving money. The schools meet with farmers monthly, agree on products and prices, and get direct delivery.

More recent shopping trips to the farmers have been met with food shortages. The school committees want more local produce and other food products, and farmers say they can’t grow more because of costs and hardships. Food service officials say they’re studying solutions, which include ways to aid local farmers and new contracts with outside farm groups.

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