By TIM THORNBERRY
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Farm to School Week was celebrated in Kentucky with a proclamation from Agriculture Commissioner James Comer to Marty Flynn, Fayette County Public Schools foodservice director. The presentation was made at Lansdowne Elementary School.
“More and more Kentucky schools are buying foods from local farmers, to serve to their students,” Comer said. “The Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s (KDA) Farm to School Program helps schools connect with local producers. The schools buy fresh produce and meats to serve to their students. The farmers get another market for their products.”
The Farm to School initiative is a USDA program designed to connect schools to local and regional food producers. But the program is more than just getting food to the schools. It also has an educational component.
According to information from the USDA, “In addition to procurement activities, food, agriculture and nutrition-based educational efforts that span a host of hands-on experiential activities, such as school gardens, field trips to local farms and cooking classes, are also included in the concept of farm to school. Standards-based curriculum centered on food, agriculture and/or nutrition often integrates as well.”
Flynn said her district started in the program about 2.5 years ago by putting together a committee consisting of the Lexington Farmers’ Market, local farmers, school district personnel, the University of Kentucky, the local health department and the Arboretum, among others. Through the work of the committee, a $5,000 grant was obtained and taste testing of local products began in the district.
The program began at Lansdowne but has spread to other schools in Fayette County, promoting local products and providing educational materials on agriculture along with nutritional materials about the products. Flynn said wellness and fitness days have been among community activities in conjunction with the program. The funding also provided for field trips to local farms so children could actually see the food growing.
The school district buys produce from area farms, including lettuce from Daily Harvest Farm in nearby Bourbon County and apples from Bramble Ridge Orchard in Montgomery County, as well as from Evans Orchard in Scott County.
Fayette County is just one of many school districts participating, meaning more students are getting access to fresh, healthy local produce while farmers are finding a new venue for their products.
According to information from KDA, the “31 Kentucky school districts that participate consistently in the Farm to School Program spent some $280,000 on local foods during the 2011-12 school year. Those school districts serve approximately 325,000 students. A total of 84 school districts are members of the Kentucky Proud program, which helps Kentucky farmers market their products.”
Comer said, “Fruits and vegetables grown locally and served at their peak of freshness are more nutritious than produce trucked in from across the country or across the border. In a time when cases of overweight and obese children are at epidemic levels, it’s more important than ever that we provide our children with the best foods.”
As with any program like this, there is always room to expand, and while the Fayette County program is feeling some growing pains especially in the area of finding new money, the focus remains on providing healthy food to the students.
“We want to encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables and, of course, when they are grown locally it’s so much better,” said Flynn. “It’s so important for children to be aware of where their food comes from, how it’s grown and it’s such a big part of our state and our economy.”
Unfortunately many children not only don’t get enough nutritious food, they don’t get enough food, period. Flynn said it’s so important for the meal they get at school to be one that is good for them.
“With this being their only meal, it’s important we make it as nutritious and attractive as possible for them to consume, and the Farm to School efforts certainly help us do that,” she added.
For more information, go to www.kyagr.com/consumer/farm-to-school.html