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Farm-to-School Week begins Monday, Oct. 5

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vdacsVirginia’s public elementary, middle and high schools serve 670,000 lunches, 250,000 breakfasts and 7,240 after-school snacks on a typical day according to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).  That’s a lot of meals, and doesn’t count the meals served at public colleges and universities or private schools. The Virginia Farm-to-School Program is working to ensure that school meals are healthy by encouraging purchases of fresh Virginia fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products at all levels of education.

The week of Oct. 5-9, Virginia will celebrate Farm-to-School Week, an annual program coordinated by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) and the VDOE.

“The Farm-to-School Week program raises awareness of the fresh, local products available in Virginia throughout the year, and connects schools directly with Virginia farmers and local food hubs,” said VDACS Commissioner Sandra J. Adams. “The results are fresh and nutritious meal options for Virginia students, community interest in Virginia Grown products and increased market opportunities for our farmers.”

When Virginia established a Farm-to-School taskforce in 2007, it was one of the first states to do so. In 2009, the first Virginia Farm-to-School Week took place. The Virginia General Assembly passed a 2010 resolution to officially designate the first full week of November as Virginia Farm-to-School Week. In 2015, the Assembly changed the date to the first full week in October in order highlight the peak harvest for many crops in October.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm-to-School Census for the 2011-2012 school year, 64 percent of the responding Virginia school districts engage in Farm-to-School activities. During that same school year, Virginia schools spent more than $118 million on school food, with over 10% of that amount from local farmers. The census will be updated in 2016.

The First Lady of Virginia is invited to kick-off the celebration of Farm-to-School Week at J. Blaine Blayton Elementary School in Williamsburg on Tuesday, October 6. The program will include a tour of the school’s garden to observe harvesting sweet potatoes. Along with the potatoes, lunch will feature butternut squash grown by KelRae Farm located in Toano. The Williamsburg Farmers’ Market will have a display on the Power of Produce, and invited guests will be able to meet the chef of the School Health Initiative Program and taste the squash recipe. In addition to the Mrs. McAuliffe, invited attendees include school and local officials and a representative of the James City County Master Gardeners program.

Schools across the Commonwealth will highlight Farm-to-School Week with special observances; this is just a sampling:

  • Goochland High School will feature at least one local product every day. On Thursday, the menu will feature Brookview Farm beef in nachos, Keenbell Farm free-range chicken in chicken salad, local potatoes and kale, and apples from Glaize orchards, including Fuji, Gala and Red Delicious. Also on Thursday, Culinary Arts students will prepare apple-cranberry muffins with local apples and empanadas with locally grown sweet potatoes at the high school.
  • At Jouett Elementary School in Louisa County on Wednesday, Matt Nuckols, a Hanover County Dairy Farmer, will visit to talk about dairy farming and Virginia agriculture in general. The school nutrition director will highlight some of the vegetables grown in the school garden on her menus. For the 4th year, Moss-Nuckols Elementary will harvest products from the school garden for Farm-to-School Week and, as always, will work with their distributor to offer as many local fruits and vegetables as are available.
  • St. Andrew’s School in Richmond will celebrate Farm-to-School Week with Farmer Greg. The school offers a local, fresh salad bar every day with apples, pears, Asian pears, sweet potatoes and more. They will bring in live chickens to emphasize local eggs during the week.
  • Many other schools from Northern Virginia to Harrisonburg to Hampton Roads will provide educational activities that emphasize food, farming and nutrition by providing special seasonal tastings, including Virginia Grown products on menus, hosting cooking competitions and inviting farmers, officials and other guests into the schools

In 2014 VDACS received a USDA Farm-to-School Conference and Event grant of $20,750 for a statewide Farm-to-School Conference that took place in March 2015. “The conference was a great success,” said Commissioner Adams, “and we are building on that success and enthusiasm with an event-packed schedule for Farm-to-School Week.”

More information and resources on Virginia Farm-to-School Week are available online at www.vdacs.virginia.gov/marketing/farm.shtml. National Farm-to-School information is available on the USDA site at www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool. Participants are invited to share their Farm-to-School information using the social media hashtags #F2SWeek and #VirginiaGrown.

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