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COLUMBIA - The healthy improvements to lunches at public schools in Columbia are receiving positive response, Columbia Public School representatives said Thursday. But, higher quality comes at a higher price.

October marks the first national Farm to Schools Month, and Columbia Public Schools are excited about their participation. Farm to Schools is a national initiative that is in its second year in Columbia. The program brings fresh, locally grown foods to Columbia public school lunchrooms.

Following a USDA mandated increase in school lunch prices for public school that went into effect this fall, this program has come to the forefront, and is being partially funded by higher lunch prices.  

"Columbia has really been a local champion for us," Lorin Fahrmeir, Missouri Farm to Institute Project Coordinator said. 

Other school districts have followed suit, and according to Rick Boudreau, cofounder of Missouri Food 4 Missouri People, Jefferson City just began a similar program this fall.

This month, the focus is on awareness, with signage, informational materials and a social media campaign to get the word out. 

The schools are encouraging families to post pictures of healthy meals on the Farms to Schools Facebook page and engage in dialogue and recipe sharing. 

And at the school level, this program has forced kitchen staffs to get creative. 

"Its kind of a challenge for us to use some of these things," Suzanne Sullivan, Kitchen Manager at Paxton Keeley Elementary said, "Different kinds of things that the children are not necessarily used to so its also a marketing issue. I have to prepare it in a way that they will like it." 

One of her recent creations was a zucchini chocolate cake. 

Although these changes will require a little creativity, so far things are on the track. 

"We're getting ready to hire a chef to help spearhead some of the changes in our menus, so it will be a slow process, but we are working on making sure we are changing the integrity of our main entrees and then some," Laina Fullum, Director of Nutrition Services for Columbia Public Schools said.

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