Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ballot Item for Locally Sourced School Lunches?

So I've got this idea about how to get more locally source food in our school cafeteria. I really think it could work, but there's a lot of work that would need to be done over the next year. Here's the background...

I recently was published in the Huffington Post (twice actually) as a part of a series they're doing on school lunches. And while my colleague whom I interviewed did most of the writing, we did have some good dialogue about how to get even more local food in the cafeteria.

Here are the challenges to getting more local food in schools:
1) The food itself is more expensive. Sure it may be more nutrient packed, and it arguably has less embodied energy, but local usually translates to expensive - I would guess in large part to the federal subsidies of large food producers. Ug.

2) Local food typically requires more labor, and thus it's more costly. As my colleague likes to say, it will always be cheaper to open a can of carrots than chop carrots. We may be able to partner with a local food hub, like the Central Vermont Food Hub, and they could potentially supply us with pre-processed foods, so we could continue to simply open cans of carrots, so to speak, but they may be limited as to what types of foods are available.

3) Some local foods are not abundant. For example, the school might be hard pressed to get all of its red meat locally sourced because there is a bottle neck on slaughtering facilities. Dear politicians, what are we doing about this? This needs to change.

4) Government subsidies cost the cafeteria. You might not realize this, but for every "free" or "reduced" meal that the cafeteria "sells", the government doesn't reimburse the cafeteria for the price of that meal. It only reimburses something like 80% of that meal. (Don't quote me on that statistic. It's an approximation.) So the cafeteria makes up for its loss by selling a la cart crap at marked up prices. In case you're not familiar, this might be anything from chex mix to ice cream to cookies.

Ok. Enough with the problems. My point is that the limits to local food are primarily financial, with the exception of availability. So here's one possible solution.

What if on the next Town Meeting Day ballot there was an item that read, "Shall the City of Montpelier appropriate the sum of $__________ for the Montpelier Food Service to provide locally sourced meals for Montpelier students?" That blank could cover the extra position needed for additional labor as well as the extra cost of the food.

Here's why this makes sense:
1) We have exhausted other resources. I have heard some people say that getting extra funding is a great idea, but it shouldn't come from the tax payers it should come from grants. We already involved with Farm to School. Even if we received more grants, those would not be long term solutions. Ok, maybe asking the taxpayers isn't exactly a long term solution, but it's better than trying to find new grant money every year.

2) The school cafeteria is arguably a public good, sort of like the library. The federal government subsidizes meals for students because students who are hungry just can't learn. The trade off now seems apparent. Either we have hungry kids who can't learn or we have obese & malnourished kids who can learn. Hm. I reject both of these things. We can do better.

3) This is a way for us to keep more of our food dollars in our local economy. Money spent on local agriculture has a multiplier effect of two or three, which means this is a better use of your kid's lunch money than where it's ultimately going now.

We're still in the very early planning stages, but the response seems generally positive. I hope it passes, but not just for its stated objectives, but also because this may be a model other cities and towns could use to transition to locally sourced food. If we can show that it works here, it could be a highly transferable model.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Starting a Church in Montpelier?

There's supposed to be seminars or classes you can take on this sort of thing. Now, I've never taken a course on church planting, but I don't even know where I'd go to take one. Plus, Vermont is such a unique kind of place I wonder if it would be of any use. Even if I did take a course, in so many ways it's easier to talk about what church should be than to manifest it.

But it looks like my Bible study may be moving that way...

Gosh, I don't how long my Bible study has been meeting - a couple years probably? People have come and gone, but this iteration seems pretty stable. At one point church planting was just about all that we ever talked about. Or maybe that was just me. :) 

I had dropped the subject months and months ago when one of the other couples said something about it a few weeks ago. And POOF! Tomorrow we meet for the 3rd time ever - we've been meeting every other week - and I'm actually really excited about it. Does this church have a name? No. Is that a problem? :) lol. Maybe. Can you tell growth is not high on the priority list? 

Here's what we do at church. We're attempting to chase down God through... 

1. EATING! usually potluck style. And we have 2 gluten free people and 2 vegetarians, so you know the potluck is an act of love. 

2. Prayer & Music. This is usually where I play guitar, but there are other musicians in the group - note to self: ask them to lead sometime (if they like). 

3. A Thought to Share + Discusion. The first week we read MLK Jr's Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Tomorrow will be some reading from St. Francis of Assisi. 

4. Service. Two weeks ago, our second "church" time ever we gathered at my place, ate, and then visited an old guy who needed some help stacking wood in his basement. There were 4 of us, and it took us 20 minutes. SUPER easy. Delightful time chatting with this old guy. 

It's worth mentioning that my sister started a group at her church called "Do Kindness", a group whose entire purpose is to bless people. She told me this great story about one of their early meetings. 

My sister's got a great mac & cheese recipe and she knew of at least a couple invalids who could use some meals. But she figured there were probably others in her church that could use some meals, but she didn't know who. So, leave it to my sister, she just started calling around people in the church saying, "Would you like to receive a meal from the Do Kindness group?" People she called were very polite and generally declined saying, "I'm sure there's someone else in the church who probably needs a meal more than I do." Not to be thwarted, my sister changed her tactics. She found much more volunteer meal recipients when she asked, "Do you like mac & cheese? ... Would you like to receive some mac & cheese?" :) Ha. I love it. 

This sort of thing makes me so happy. I really hope it catches on in churches. It seems odd this this would be unusual or novel for a church. It seems with all these Sequester cuts to aid programs, the church may be able to step in and fill some of that gap. Here's hoping something fills that gap.