Farm-to-school meals benefit farmers, schools
The Virginia Farm to School program provides opportunities for schools, distributors and growers to increase the volume of locally grown foods served in school cafeterias and dining halls, at all levels of education.
The 2018 survey found that 75 percent of Virginia school divisions are actively participating in Farm to School programs, an increase from 64 percent in 2016. The total dollars spent on locally sourced foods in Virginia during the 2016-2017 school year was $15.4 million, an increase from $7.78 million during the 2013-2014 school year.
“In the Office of School Nutrition Programs, we believe that every child deserves access to fresh, healthy food grown by Virginia’s farmers,” explained Trista Grigsby, Farm to School specialist for the Virginia Department of Education. “Increasing local food education through Farm to School will help create the next generation of consumers who care about where their food comes from and will help preserve Virginia’s farm-based economies.”
Virginia was one of the first states to establish a Farm to School task force in 2007. The first Farm to School Week was in 2009 and has continued to be held in October to coincide with National Farm to School Month.
“The program has grown tremendously since 2007,” Grigsby said. “Spending federal school nutrition dollars on local foods helps invest more money into the community, so it’s a win for everyone.”
She also noted that, by using fresh, local foods, staff in school kitchens are building their culinary skills. “We offer workshops where staff learn how to chop and cut and hone their skills, and school nutrition directors learn how to target local food in their procurement,” she explained.
Whitney Perkins, a commodity specialist with Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said that organization supports getting more local foods into schools. “It’s no secret that our children are more removed from the farm today than they were 20 or even 10 years ago,” Perkins explained. “Efforts like Virginia Farm to School are a great way for producers to start a conversation about food with our future consumers.”
The upcoming Farm to School Conference on March 14 and the Virginia Farm to School Network meetings in April and May will provide opportunities for farmers and school nutrition staff to begin a dialogue toward increased local food in schools, Grigsby noted. For more information visit doe.virginia.gov/support/nutrition/index.shtml.
Those who join the network receive contact information of others in the region who want to increase access to fresh, healthy, locally-raised foods for Virginia’s children. To join the network, visitsurveymonkey.com/r/VAF2SNetwork.