News Date: 11/03/2009
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) and the Virginia Department of Education have designated the week of November 9 – 13, 2009, as Virginia Farm to School Week. The agencies are encouraging all schools in the Commonwealth, kindergarten through college, to purchase, serve and promote Virginia Grown foods in their cafeterias that week.
The Farm to School program (F2S) connects local farms and schools to provide improved nutrition for the students and to support local and regional farmers. VDACS established a Farm to School Web site in 2008 to promote Virginia products to educational institutions and serve as a resource to connect farms, schools and distributors.
“The Farm to School program has proved to be very popular,” said Todd P. Haymore, VDACS’ Commissioner. “The logistics of getting enough product to a school in a timely fashion can be challenging, but many schools are very committed to the concept and are eager participants in the program. The number of schools participating in this special emphasis and the menus they have prepared are very impressive.” In proof of that, he offers the following examples:
In Goochland County, all schools will feature a local item on each day’s menu: sweet potatoes on Monday, fresh greens on Tuesday, steamed cabbage on Thursday and apples on Friday. Wednesday’s lunch will feature an all Virginia menu: sliced pork with gravy, baked potatoes, steamed broccoli and apples. Goochland has invited a local farmer to come talk to the Middle School students. While students wait in the lunch line, they can nibble on a variety of sliced apple wedges and compare the different varieties. In the elementary schools, Virginia Cooperative Extension is providing apple coloring sheets, and students will get to display their artwork in the cafeterias.
In Harrisonburg, the city schools had a Harvest Day on October 1 where most of the food items came from local farms. By the time Farm to School Week rolls around, Harrisonburg will have so many local foods on the menu routinely that they will just highlight them on menus and in their newsletter. Leanne DuBois, the State F2S Coordinator for VDACS, says that Harrisonburg City Schools are a shining example of what the F2S program can be. “Already this fall, they have purchased more than $5,000 worth of produce from the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction. Products include apples, peppers, tomatoes, watermelons, cantaloupes, peaches, potatoes and squash. They will continue to purchase lettuce, apples, potatoes, ground beef and pork through the winter and plan to purchase fresh early crops during the spring season.”
In Rappahannock County, Brenda Payne, the Food Service Director, and Trista Scheurerlein, Farm to Table Program Director, are partnering with Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Fodderstack Food Working Group, Piedmont Environmental Council’s Buy Fresh/Buy Local campaign, Jenkins Orchard, The Farm at Sunnyside and Williams Orchard to have an entirely locally-produced meal available to all students in their cafeteria lines on November 11. Local farmers will set up informational booths in school cafeterias and local farmers will eat lunch with students to discuss what it’s like to produce food for people in Rappahannock County. The schools have invited volunteers to come to the school cafeteria after school on November 10 to help peel and dice apples for the next day’s apple crisp. “Using fresh, local foods can sometimes increase the prep time required to create meals,” said Trista. “Utilizing volunteers is one way to overcome that hurdle.” She encourages all volunteers to bring their own peelers and cutting boards.
For Farm-to-School Week, Augusta County Schools will serve local Asian pears and James City County will serve Virginia Grown mixed greens, winter squash and broccoli. St. Catherine’s School in Richmond is currently planning its local menu, and they have invited local farmers to visit and talk with the students about agriculture that week.
Building connections between schools, students and producers throughout Virginia will provide better economic opportunities for agriculture and healthier options for children. For more information and resources, see the Farm to School Web site: www.vdacs.virginia.gov/marketing/farm.shtml or contact VDACS’ Marketing Division at 804.786.3530.
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