Virginia schools, farmers work together for better child nutrition
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, administered by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), 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.
“Nearly 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 agricultural communities,” said VDACS Commissioner Sandra J. Adams. “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.”
“Schools across the Commonwealth are finding creative ways to connect Farm-to-School programs with their instructional programs,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples said. “Most of our 132 school divisions have either started a program or are planning to start one.”
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.
On Oct. 3-7, Virginia will celebrate Farm-to-School Week, an annual program coordinated by VDACS and VDOE with support from many other statewide partners, to raise awareness of fresh, Virginia Grown products available throughout the year. As part of the 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 item for “Crunch-A-Palooza” at noon on Thursday, Oct. 6. Participants are encouraged to register on The Planning Council’s Farm2Childcare website.
Other school activities planned during Farm-to-School Week include:
- St. Andrew Preschool in Suffolk will host a farm-themed Fall Festival Oct. 6 starting at 9:30 a.m.featuring an apple photo booth, apple pizzas and apple dissecting activities. At 11 a.m., festival attendees will participate in the statewide Crunch-A-Palooza event.
- In Richmond, Oakgrove Elementary School will host a visit from Shalom Farms Mobile Market from3-4 p.m. Oct. 7 and local foods will be featured on the lunch menu throughout the week.
- In Henrico County, Fairfield Middle School will have a farmers’ market Oct. 4 featuring fresh produce from the school garden.
- On Oct. 6, Charlottesville City Schools, in partnership with City Schoolyard Garden and Local Food Hub, will continue the Harvest of the Month: Garden to Table Snack Program by providing students with a locally-sourced snack, grown by partner farms and prepared by school staff and volunteers.
- Loudoun County Public Schools is having a Farm-to-School art contest with the theme, “What Farm-to-School Means to Me.”
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 www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool.
Participants are invited to share their Farm-to-School information using the social media hashtags #F2SWeek and #VirginiaGrown.