Virginia observes Farm-to-School Week
On Oct. 2-6, Virginia will celebrate Farm to School Week, an annual program coordinated by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) with support from many other statewide partners.
“A decade ago, Virginia was one of the first states to join the national effort to connect schools with fresh, seasonally grown foods from their local farmers,” said Sandra J. Adams, VDACS Commissioner. Adams, who will visit Charles Barrett Elementary School in Alexandria Oct. 4 with First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe; Dr. Basil Gooden, Secretary and Agriculture and Forestry; and Dr. Robert Staples, Superintendent of Public Instruction, says that the Farm to School program not only increases market opportunities for Virginia’s farmers, but it also helps more than 800,000 school-based youth understand where their food comes from and how their food choices impact their health, community and the environment.
“Having locally produced foods available in our schools sends a strong educational message to our students,” Staples said. “Our students see that eating healthy local fresh foods is not only good for them, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for their community. This is a great opportunity to connect our great agricultural resources with another great resource — our students.”
On a typical day, Virginia’s K-12 public schools serve 313,796 breakfasts, 643,432 lunches and 10,782 after-school snacks, according to the VDOE. To ensure that the Commonwealth’s public schools have an ample supply of fresh and healthy food options for students, the Virginia Farm-to-School program connects schools directly with Virginia farmers and local fresh food distributors. In fact, in a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey of more than 1,300 Virginia schools, approximately half of their meals and snacks, on average, contain products from local produce, meat and dairy farmers.
As part of the Farm to School Week celebration, Virginia schools, early care settings, families and other organizations across the Commonwealth are invited to “crunch” into a Virginia Grown apple or other locally grown crunchy items for “The Crunch Heard ’Round the Commonwealth” at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4.
Other activities planned during the week include:
- Rappahannock County – On Sept. 27 to prepare for the week, 3rd graders will shop at the Warrenton Farmers’ Market with $10 from a community partner and $14 more per person if they bring their own bags.
- Office of the Governor, Richmond; Local Food Hub, Charlottesville; management staff of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Richmond and others – Sept. 29, groups will gather ahead of Farm to School Week to participate in the Feed Virginia Day of Action. More than 150 statewide events are designed to raise awareness of organizations in Virginia working to increase food access, improve nutrition and end hunger through volunteer opportunities, many of which will be geared toward Farm to School Week preparation.
- Harrisonburg – Oct. 2 – 6, The Mobil Café Bus hosts a high school senior who is a vendor at the Harrisonburg Farmers’ Market. She will provide crepe tastings from her business, Crepes Didot. Reporters from the high school paper will interview farmers who visit the elementary schools and post them on their online newspaper. The newspaper and Crepes Didot will sponsor a local foods photo contest. All Harrisonburg city schools will participate in Crunch Day with apples from Showalter’s Orchards.
- Fairfax County – Oct. 2 – 6. More than 3,500 students at 5 elementary schools can choose among 3 varieties of Virginia-grown apples from Showalter’s Orchard. Farmers from the orchard will visit one of those schools during the week. The schools also will serve Virginia beef patties from the folks at Seven Hills Food who will visit at least one of the schools.
- Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind, Staunton – Date TBD. The cafeteria will showcase vegetables from the student farm and students will dress like a farmer, no doubt with tools of the trade such as a cell phone, GPS unit and on-board computer.
According to the USDA’s 2015 Farm-to-School Census, 57 percent of the responding Virginia school districts engaged in Farm-to-School activities and invested approximately $7.8 million in local food, with the average school district spending 3 percent of their budget on products from local farmers. More Virginia Farm-to-School Census results can be found here: farmtoschoolcensus.fns.usda.gov/find-your-school-district/virginia.
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 General Assembly changed the date to the first full week in October to highlight the peak harvest for many crops.
More information and resources on Virginia Farm-to-School Week are available online at vdacs.virginia.gov/marketing-virginia-farm-to-school-program.shtml. National Farm-to-School information is available on the USDA site at fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool. Participants are invited to share their Farm-to-School information using the social media hashtags #F2SWeek and #VirginiaGrown.