2004 Essay Contest:
Why Schools Should Serve Locally-Grown Foods

The Kerr Center invites all high school juniors and seniors in the State of Oklahoma to participate in an essay contest. The subject of the contest is "Why Schools Should Serve Locally-Grown Foods."

This essay contest is designed in include young people in a thoughtful discussion of solutions and current challenges facing farmers and consumers in our food system. The winning essays will focus on the issues and potential benefits involved in forming an Oklahoma Farm-to- School program in an individual school and/or statewide in many schools.

The arguments and ideas in each essay should be well developed. Essayists will be asked to include their own ideas and convictions, as well as relevant research that could include interviews of other students. A short list of research resources is included in this packet; students are encouraged to search out their own sources as well.

The contest will begin on January 7, 2004, and all essays must be addressed to the Kerr Center Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and received in the Kerr Center's office by 5:00 p.m., March 12, 2004. 2004 Kerr Center Essay Contest Winners will be announced Monday, May 10, 2004..

GRAND PRIZE is a cash award of $750.00; 1st Runner up is a cash award of $500.00; and three awards of $250.00 will be given for Honorable Mentions. Winning essays may be published in the Kerr Center's newsletter Field Notes which is mailed to approximately 7,000 people quarterly or online at kerrcenter.com.

For further information regarding the 2004 Essay Contest, you may contact Anita Poole at apoole@kerrcenter.com or by calling 918-647-9123.


Hints for Writing a Winning Essay
Persuasive writing is a style in which the writer is trying to convince the reader to agree about an issue that has more than one side. To write in the persuasive style, a writer must:

  • acknowledge there are two sides to every controversial issue;
  • list and arrange arguments in a logical, effective manner; and
  • if possible, refute the arguments of the opposing side.


Like expository writing, persuasive writing can use techniques such as analogies, examples, definitions, comparison/contrast, cause/effect and classification. If you have any questions about any of these techniques, ask your English teacher or a professional writer.

Remember that to write a balanced paper, organization is key. One way to organize your thoughts is to first develop an outline. Papers that are persuasive and well organized have a better chance at winning this contest.


RULES
1. All essays must address the stated target topic.
2. Maximum length of an essay is 1,000 words while minimum length of an accepted essay is 800 words. Any essays that are submitted that do not conform to these requirements will result in disqualification without exception. The Kerr Center reserves the right to edit the winning essays prior to publication in the Kerr Center's newsletter or inclusion in the Kerr Center web site.
3. All children and families of Kerr Center employees are excluded from the competition.
4. The essays will be evaluated by an independent committee and will be judged on specific criteria. The criteria for judging will be: the development of ideas, overall use of good writing skills, attention to details and facts, the preciseness of presentation and the emotional responses evoked by the essays.
5. All essays should be typed and double-spaced with a standard readable font.
6. All essays should include a title page which contains the participant=s name, address, school, grade, paper title and word count. If a teacher told you about this contest, please include his/her name and title.
7. Each work must be original, and all quotes from other sources must be documented either in the body of the paper or in footnotes or endnotes. You are not limited only to the resources provided, but remember, plagiarism will result in disqualification from the contest.
8. All essays become the property of the Kerr Center Institute for Sustainable Agriculture.
9. Background information included in this packet is meant to provide you with an introduction to the subject. Students should use other resources to develop their essays. Recommended resources include books, magazines, web sites, reports, news media, school personnel, and personal contact with individuals either involved with agriculture or interested in it. A short list to get you started is included in this packet. Essays should use/list three or more sources.
10. Entries should be sent to Anita Poole,
Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture,
P. O. Box 588, Poteau, OK 74953.
Inquiries may be made to 918-647-9123.

11. Have fun, and remember that ideas that you develop today may make a significant impact on the world of tomorrow.

Background Information:
2004 Essay Contest—
Why Schools Should Serve Locally Grown Foods

Most of the foods served in schools in Oklahoma are shipped in from other states. In the United States, the typical "fresh" food item is hauled an average of 1500 to 2500 miles before being served. Much of the money paid for these transported foods immediately leaves the Oklahoma economy and benefits out of state businesses.

Many farmers and ranchers struggling to make a living must pay for school lunches for their children that consist of farm products grown many miles away. Many are starting to ask why we are supporting farmers in other states, but not our own.

Farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma are capable of growing many products that are currently being bought elsewhere. Schools could purchase many items from Oklahoma farmers, ideally farmers living in communities near the schools. Students then would have the opportunity to consume fresh farm products soon after they were harvested, and money spent on school lunches would benefit the state and local community.

Arrangements whereby farmers or farmer groups grow specific food items to sell to their local schools are called farm-to-school (or farm-to-cafeteria) programs. Farmers themselves, private companies or groups, or government entities help in various capacities to distribute the produce to the schools that want it.

Both schools and small farmers benefit from these efforts. Schools provide children fresh, tasty nutritious produce while small farmers acquire new markets. Schools are able to provide fresh produce quickly and with lower transportation costs by buying it from small farmers instead of from distant markets. While fresh fruits and vegetables are often the mainstays of such programs, other locally-raised farm products such as dairy, eggs, nuts, meat, even breads and other locally-processed products could also be sold to schools.
Spurred by USDA initiatives and facilitated by state efforts and action at the grass roots, such programs are gaining in popularity. Farmers are forming cooperatives or alliances in order to provide the products schools desire.

lready existing farmer groups such as farm market growers or commodity organizations are taking advantage of the opportunity to sell to schools. Parents and food activists are also involved in challenging their school systems to get involved.

According to the New York Times in January of 2003, school districts in 17 states have signed contracts with small local farms in farm-to-school programs. The potential is huge: four billion dollars are spent on school lunches every year in the US; ten billion on federal school nutrition programs including breakfast and lunch and snacks provided free or at a discount.

Proponents of farm to school programs say that that locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables foods are fresher and tastier, and therefore are more appealing to school kids, who will eat them and get the nutrients they need to be attentive and healthy.

The health of many of Oklahoma’s children is declining. According to the USDA, 19.3 percent of children in Oklahoma are overweight (compared to 16.1 percent nationally). This is not surprising given that during the past decade the percentage of overweight Oklahomans of all ages has steadily increased. As the Oklahoma State Board of Health said in its 2002 State of the State’s Health Report, "For our youth the increase has been appropriately called an epidemic."

Obesity contributes to many serious health conditions over the course of a person’s lifetime, beginning in youth. Obesity contributes significantly to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, certain cancers and other chronic diseases and conditions. Oklahoma has higher rates of death from chronic diseases compared to the rest of the nation, and the health of the adult working population has been called "relatively poor."

Reflecting these facts, our state’s health ranking has steadily declined, moving us from 33rd of the 50 states to 42nd.

Nationally, less than twenty percent of children eat the recommended servings of vegetables and less than 15 per cent eat the recommended servings of fruit. Like children around the U.S., children in Oklahoma are getting fat because they do not get enough exercise and they eat too much of the wrong kinds of foods—foods high in fat and sugars. These poor food choices lead not only to obesity but also to nutrient deficits.

Reversing these trends will be a challenge. It is common sense, however, to assume that good health begins in childhood and intervention then will set the stage for good health throughout a person’s life. Because school food programs reach a very large number of our children every day, the USDA, various states, and school systems in many communities around the country have seen them as the ideal place to institute a number of programs to encourage increased consumption of fresh, nutritious produce. In addition to fresh produce, lean meats, grain products and dairy are also crucial elements of a balanced diet for children and are featured in some farm-to-school programs.

The Kerr Center and the Oklahoma Food Policy Council are working with several agencies to form a statewide Farm to School program to connect farmers and school cafeterias so that students will have the chance to eat locally grown foods. Farm-to-School will help schools provide children with fresh, tasty nutritious produce while small farmers will acquire new markets.

Print Resources:
Oklahoma Farm to School Report and The Oklahoma Food Connection, available at kerrcenter.com
The New York Times

Organizations with web sites with information on farm-to-school programs:
The Community Food Security Coalition
Food Routes Network
Oklahoma Food Policy Council/Kerr Center
Cornell University
Occidental College
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

 

 

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