March 26, 2014

Healthy Foods Are the Pulse of Idaho

Guest Editorial by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo for week beginning March 30, 2014

Getting out of Washington, D.C. and back to Idaho is rewarding enough; it is all the more so when I am fortunate enough to meet with Idaho students.  I recently had the opportunity to meet with students at Jenifer Junior High School in Lewiston, and join them for some healthy foods made from Idaho-grown pulse crops-peas, lentils, chickpeas and dry beans.

Washington Senator Maria Cantwell and I worked to include special provisions for pulse crops in the new farm bill legislation approved earlier this year.  Pulse crops are sometimes called Legumes.  These annual crops are raised primarily on the Palouse and, in addition to peas and lentils, include navy beans, dry beans, kidney beans and chickpeas, a primary component in hummus.

We are establishing a new pilot program that allows schools the opportunity to serve nutritious snack and lunch items made from pulse crops.  Consumption of these crops has been linked to reducing obesity and the risk of diabetes.  Currently, 17 percent of children aged 2 to 19 are rated as obese, which puts them at increased risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.

Much of the research regarding pulse crops has been done right here at the University of Idaho.  Our farm bill provisions will expand that research and add new marketing and classroom possibilities for pulse crops. 

Some of you may recall I also worked with New York Senator Charles Schumer to have Greek yogurt approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for use in our school breakfast and lunch programs.  Idaho now has the largest Greek yogurt production facility in the world, where Chobani employs more than 200 people at their Twin Falls facility, and it was recently announced that the company plans to expand that by bringing more jobs to the Magic Valley.

These bipartisan efforts are aimed at offering healthier, yet appealing alternatives for our students.  They are also proving on the world stage that Idaho is a major player when it comes to the healthy foods we all want our children to enjoy.  And, I am proud to note, I've also worked to include fresh fruits and vegetables in school lunches and remain driven to get fresh potatoes part of the healthy offerings for our students, as well as their inclusion in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program.

These school nutrition pilot projects are not mandated by the federal government; rather they are a healthy alternative offering with incentives for school districts that partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

If you have children in school, why not take a minute and ask them about these nutrition programs.  And, thank your teacher, principal or school nutritionist for watching out for Idaho's next generation of leaders by offering nutrition choices that are great for the students-and great for Idaho agriculture.