Farm to School program promotes local business, better nutrition
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Virginia Department of Education have a winning equation that results in better nutrition and an economic boost for communities. It’s called the Virginia Farm to School Program and it brings fresh local agricultural products into schools from kindergarten to the college level. To celebrate the popularity and growth of Farm to School, November 12-16, is Virginia Farm to School Week.
“This is the fourth year we have celebrated Farm to School Week in Virginia,” said Matthew J. Lohr, VDACS Commissioner. “Farm to School presents an opportunity to expand the awareness of fresh, in-season products available in Virginia throughout the year. Schools celebrate the week by focusing on local food and agriculture through food tastings, agricultural and nutritional education, cook-offs, planting or harvesting school gardens, visits from local farmers and even school-based farmers’ markets. As the parent of two school-aged children, I know from experience that it is also a time to engage parents and educate them about the nutritional value of fresh, locally-grown and produced fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs and other products.”
A recent survey of school nutrition directors throughout the state, sponsored in partnership with Virginia Tech, VDACS and VDOE, revealed that all respondents had knowledge of the Virginia Farm to School Program and 69 percent had participated in the 2010 Virginia Farm to School Week. The majority of respondents defined local foods as food grown within Virginia.
When asked what activities they had taken to include local food in their school division, the number one response (86 percent) was serving meals featuring Virginia Grown foods. About 45 percent of schools reported that they have developed a purchasing relationship with local farmers and 15 percent of respondents stated that they planned to develop a relationship with local farmers within the next year. Other Farm to School activities reported included inviting a farmer to school (40 percent), planting a school garden (36 percent) and working with teachers to include classroom-based curriculum featuring local foods and agriculture (32 percent).
Respondents stated that the benefit to purchasing local food increases support for Virginia farms (63 percent), supports their local economy and community (57 percent) and enhances the school division’s public relations (49 percent). Fifty-one percent of respondents agreed that seasonal availability of local foods within the school calendar year was a challenge. A 2009 study by the Virginia Food System Council reported that since the General Assembly directed the implementation of the Virginia Farm to School Program in 2007, there has been a 300 percent increase in Virginia foods served in public and private schools.
“Farm to School is a win-win situation for schools and Virginia farmers,” said Commissioner Lohr. “Farmers can feel proud that their hard work in the fields is providing healthier menu options for school children in the Commonwealth.”
For more Farm to School information and resources visit VDACS’ website at www.vdacs.virginia.gov/marketing/farm.shtml or contact the Marketing Division at 804.225.3663.