Introducing the Farm to School Program

Farm to School2

Do you know where your food comes from? You’ll find many answers to this question, often from extremely varied perspectives. Many people take for granted or are simply unaware of where their food originates. With that, the ease of obtaining and accessibility to nourishing, healthful foods are also vastly different from one household to the next. In most instances, however, there is one commonality – an overwhelming lack of knowledge and education regarding nutritious, high-quality, locally sourced food, including the planning and preparation that accompanies the agricultural efforts that make it possible.

This is where Parkview’s Youth Well-Being team comes in. After noticing this growing trend, they knew something had to be done. It took three years, multiple denials and mounds of paperwork, but after partnering with five eager school districts, their efforts paid off. In October of 2019, Parkview Health was awarded a $34,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to start the planning process of a Farm to School program.

What will this grant do?

The USDA’s Farm to School grant helps fund school districts, state and local agencies, Indian tribal organizations, agricultural producers and nonprofit organizations in their efforts to increase local foods served through child nutrition programs, while also educating children and their families about food and agriculture through garden and classroom education.

“This program is a great opportunity to not only teach students about healthy foods available in their area but also bring those foods right into their school,” Kylee Bennett, youth well-being coordinator, Parkview Health, said. “It’s a natural extension of our relationships with local school districts and will allow us to make a deeper impact on the health of children in our communities. We are grateful for the opportunity to create a program that will help local schools connect with local farmers.”

Kylee said the Farm to School program supports Parkview’s mission to improve health and inspire well-being in the communities it serves. A regional Farm to School program could potentially address student nutrition habits, increase easy access to fruits and vegetables, improve household food security, enhance overall academic achievement, and even support positive changes in the diets and lifestyles of school teachers and staff.

The Farm to School initiative is unique to each participating entity. With the assistance of this planning grant, recipients will be allowed to explore how they could best utilize and implement a program in their area. Parkview’s Youth Well-Being team will work with the Metropolitan School District of Steuben County, Garrett-Keyser-Butler Community School District, Lakeland Schools in LaGrange County, Northwest Allen County Schools and East Allen County School districts to develop a comprehensive, regional Farm to School plan for the northeast Indiana region.

What is Farm to School?

The Farm to School program enhances the connection that communities have with fresh, healthy food and local producers by changing purchasing and education practices at schools and early care education sites. The program empowers children and their families to make informed decisions regarding their food while strengthening the local economy and contributing to the community. While Farm to School implementation is different for each location, it will always consist of one or more of the three core elements:

  • Procurement – Local foods are purchased, promoted and served in the cafeteria as a snack or in classroom taste-tests.
  • Education – Students participate in educational activities related to agriculture, food, health and nutrition.
  • School gardens – Students engage in hands-on, experiential learning through gardening.

Ultimately, it will be up to each participant to decide what they want to do, how much they can do, and their budget for implementation and maintenance.

Why Farm to School?

In short, everyone wins! Children, their families, local farmers, producers and the community at large will all benefit from the program. The initiative allows children easy access to nutritious, high-quality, locally sourced food enabling them to start each day fueled and ready to learn. The Farm to School curriculum is also enhancing classroom education through hands-on learning related to food, health, agriculture and nutrition while opening doors to possibilities some may not have known existed.

The Farm to School effort will also serve as a significant financial opportunity for farmers, fishers, ranchers, food processors and food manufacturers by opening doors to institutional markets in hopes of creating a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship that each can build upon.

As for the community, Farm to School benefits everyone from students, teachers and administrators to parents and farmers, providing opportunities to build family and community engagement. Buying from local producers and processors creates new jobs and strengthens the local economy.

What are the school district representatives saying?

It’s not difficult to be enthusiastic about such a worthy program, but several school district representatives stated, they too, are excited for the opportunity to create a Farm to School program in their area. “Farm to School provides the opportunity to support local agriculture while nourishing the students in our care. We are able to promote a variety of fresh and local commodities while laying the path to good nutrition and eating habits,” Stephanie Haynes-Clifford, food service director for Metropolitan School District of Steuben County, said.

“All individuals involved with child nutrition are passionate about their students and their success. They are our future.” “The initiative proposed by Parkview is an excellent fit for Northwest Allen County Schools, in that, we have an agricultural program at Carroll High School that is outstanding, the participation of our students in FFA and 4-H is strong, and our growing culinary arts classes have received state recognition,” Gloria Shamanoff, assistant superintendent for Northwest Allen County Schools, said. “With this foundation in place, the Farm to School initiative is a perfect extension to what opportunities are already available to our students. We are grateful that the Parkview family asked us to join the initiative.”

 

This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.

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