RICHMOND—The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the state Department of Agriculture will celebrate Virginia Farm to School Week Nov. 12-16.
The observance will highlight the nutritional and economic boosts seen when school systems purchase food for student meals from local farms.
“Farm to School Week presents an opportunity to expand the awareness of fresh, in-season products available in Virginia throughout the year,” said Matthew J. Lohr, VDACS commissioner. Schools observe the week with food tastings, agricultural and nutritional education, cook-offs, visits from local farmers and school-based farmers’ markets. Students also plant and harvest seasonal crops in school gardens and greenhouses.
“As the parent of two school-aged children, I know from experience that it is also a time to engage parents and educate them about the nutritional value of fresh, locally grown and locally produced fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs and other products,” Lohr said.
A recent survey of school nutrition directors throughout the state revealed that all respondents had knowledge of the Virginia Farm to School Program, which was created in 2007. The majority defined local foods as food grown within Virginia.
When asked what steps they had taken to include local food in their school divisions, 86 percent said they had begun serving meals featuring Virginia-grown foods. About 45 percent reported that they had developed purchasing relationships with local farmers, and 15 percent said they planned to develop such relationships within the next year.
Other farm-to-school activities reported included inviting farmers to speak at schools (40 percent), planting school gardens (36 percent) and working with teachers to include classroom-based curriculum featuring local foods and agriculture (32 percent).
Fifty-one percent of respondents said seasonal availability of local foods within the school year was a challenge. A 2009 study by the Virginia Food System Council reported a 300 percent increase in Virginia foods being served in public and private schools since the General Assembly directed the implementation of the Virginia Farm to School Program.
“The steady growth of farm-to-school programs in Virginia and other states is a real success story,” said Spencer Neale, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “It increases opportunities for farms of all sizes, and it gets everyone involved in the experience—from students, their teachers and their parents to local volunteers, school administrators and food preparation staff.
“What better place than the school lunchroom to reinforce to children where their food comes from and how it gets to their plates?”
Contact Neale at 804-290-1153 or Elaine Lidholm, VDACS communications director, at 804-786-7686.