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How Minnesota Turned Fuel, Cigarettes into Food for Hopkins Students

Hopkins is rightly proud about how it’s turning fresh, local produce into meals for students. On Monday, West Junior High demonstrated how it’s making homemade pickles using food preparation equipment purchased with a Department of Agriculture and Blue Cross Blue Shield grant.

The money didn’t arrive out of the blue, though. It actually reflects two converging efforts that arose from shifting policies and holistic wellness efforts.

The state cut ethanol subsidies a few years ago, said Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. But rather than simply put that money back into the state’s general fund, the Legislature directed it back to the Agriculture Department through a variety of programs.

Farm to School grants like the ones that Hopkins benefitted from are among those programs. The grants fund the creation of feasibility plans for districts to determine what equipment, tools, training or policies they need to start a Farm to School program. They also help schools buy equipment that helps them purchase, prepare and serve more Minnesota-grown food.

The idea is that the state is still helping farmers—but now the money addresses student nutrition goals, too.

The change has been stark. Minnesota’s Farm to School program has grown from fewer than 20 districts in 2006 to 145 districts in 2011, according to Hopkins Public Schools. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy estimates that Minnesota school spent about $1.3 million on Farm to School produce in 2011, roughly double the amount in 2010.

Blue Cross Blue Shield’s contribution came about in a similarly roundabout fashion. In 1998, Blue Cross and the State of Minnesota agreed to a settlement with the tobacco industry that awarded the company $469 million and the state $6.1 billion.

Years later, Blue Cross is still using its money to “create lasting change that improves health for all Minnesotans.” The Hopkins Farm to School equipment is a beneficiary of that funding.

Cooks in the West Junior High kitchen may be experts at combining the cucumbers, vinegar and dill into the fresh pickles that students love so much. But it’s also worth taking some time to remember the role others played in transforming ethanol and cigarettes into equipment that makes those recipes possible.

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