CLEVELAND, OH – Today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined local celebrity chef Doug Katz, a Geauga County farmer, and students at Washington Park Public High School to outline new jobs legislation, the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, that would expand markets for local farmers and producers while improving school lunches through the addition of more locally-grown fruits and vegetables. 

“Linking Ohio producers with Ohio consumers like schools and children is common sense,” said Brown. “By increasing access to fresh, local foods, we can expand markets for Ohio’s agricultural producers while improving health, creating jobs, and strengthening our economy.” 

With students working at their school’s greenhouse, Brown outlined how his bill would support ongoing Farm-to-School efforts and increase access to healthy foods with a program modeled on the Cuyahoga County’s Produce Perks program. It provides funding to help farmers build the infrastructure—like community kitchens—to process and sell their food locally, breaks down barriers so that schools can purchase local food more easily, and provides schools with a local school credit to purchase local foods.

Washington Park principal Alisa McKinnie represented the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) in detailing its recent $45,000 award through the federal Farm-to-School program, through which it will be working with Cleveland State University, Center for Urban Education, and the Ohio State University Extension to develop a comprehensive plan for increasing farm-to-school activities. Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Farm-to-School program helps schools connect with local producers and teaches kids where their food comes from. Brown’s bill would improve Farm-to-School efforts and would allow school districts to spend a portion of federal funds for free and reduced school lunches on locally-grown fruits and vegetables, rather than USDA commodities.

“We are grateful to Senator Brown and our community partners for launching a Farm-to-School initiative that benefits both our students and the local economy,” CMSD CEO Eric S. Gordon said. “We are also pleased that the Senator chose the greenhouse at Washington Park School as a backdrop for his news conference, to showcase our environmental studies academy at CMSD.”

Also participating in the press conference was Savery Rorimer, owner of Snake Hill Farms in Geauga County, who explained how Brown’s bill would help Ohio farmers sell their products directly to consumers and create jobs by assisting farmers engaged in local and regional agriculture by addressing production, aggregation, processing, marketing, and distribution needs.  

“Since I first started farming 16 years ago, I have seen interest in organic and local food take off. Consumers, hospitals, restaurants—and now schools—are interested in providing local foods for their customers and students,” Rorimer said. “Senator Brown’s bill will create new markets for producers like me—at more farmers markets, at restaurants like Fire Food & Drink, and schools like Washington Park.”

Brown and the students were also joined by Doug Katz, owner and executive chef of Fire Food & Drink, who has made local food central to his menus year-round, using ingredients from more than a dozen Ohio producers. Katz, who also serves as chef at the Cleveland Museum of Art, has made Food Network appearances with Rachel Ray, and was named a “Who’s Who, 150 Names to Know in Northeast Ohio” by Crain’s Cleveland Business.

“Ingredients are the basis for my restaurants’ success. When we buy local food we are supporting our community and interacting with and learning from our local farmers and artisans,” Katz said. “We teach our staff and customers that these products and relationships are special. Seeing the difference in quality firsthand is the best education we can provide to our entire community. Senator’s Brown’s bill would help teach those lessons to our local students and a strong reason why I support his legislation.”

Brown, the first Ohioan to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in more than four decades, first introduced the bill in 2011 and successfully fought to have key provisions included in the Senate-passed 2012 farm bill.