Farm to School Month: Plant the Seeds of Healthy Communities

Oct 12, 2011, 3:56 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

FarmtoSchool Cascade Middle School in Bethel School District (OR) features local produce on their salad bar (photo courtesy USDA).

During the first National Farm to School Month, farms across the country are bringing a wide variety of fresh foods, activities and educational opportunities to local schools. Activities include adding locally-grown produce to school meals, growing school gardens, taking field trips to local farms and nutrition and agriculture lessons. The goals of the program, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, include increasing fruit and vegetable consumption among school kids, supporting local famers and advancing nutrition information in the community.

The Farm to School movement has grown since it began ten years ago. According to the USDA, all fifty states have farm to school projects with projects underway at close to 10,000 schools.

Learn more about the farm to school idea in this video from the National Farm to School Network:

More examples of farm to school programs include:

  • In Muskegon County, Michigan, where health officials noted that residents weren't eating enough fruits and vegetables according to the latest County Health Rankings, more than 4,000 students celebrated Farm to School Month by eating apples (all locally-grown) at the same time, and attempting to break the world record.
  • At the Bethel, Oregon school district, students man a smoothie bar that makes use of local berries.
  • Public schools in Morrison, Oklahoma purchased local products in the 2009-2010 school year including cucumbers, grapes, lettuce, melons, onions, peppers (bell and hot), squash, tomatoes, zucchini, beef, ground whole wheat, and pecans. The district hopes to add eggs and asparagus to the list of locally-sourced ingredients soon.
  • At the school district in Jamestown, Rhode Island students plant, cultivate, and harvest crops at a nearby community farm, have science and math classes that relate to farming and translate school lunch menus in a Spanish class as part of the farm to school program.
  • Freshwise Farms in Rochester, NY, brings schools to its fields for soil-testing science experiments, farm-wide scavenger hunts, farm related songs and games and planting lessons kids can take home.

USDA has an excellent FAQ on Farm to School efforts here.

This week is also National School Lunch Week, during which USDA is highlighting the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 which became law late last year. Among its provisions, the new law sets nutritional standards for foods sold in schools, has updated requirements for school wellness policies, and provides more nutritional information to parents.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.