October is National Farm-to-School Month, and Virginia is celebrating with Virginia Farm to School Week, from October 2-6, 2017. This designation is intended to create awareness of the Virginia Farm to School Program and promote opportunities for both farmers and schools to become involved. Farm to School’s overarching mission is to increase the volume of locally- grown foods served in schools, which is a win-win for both school systems and the agriculture industry! This primarily takes the form of three components: procurement, education, and school gardens.
The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) is the National Farm to School Network’s Core Partner in the state, but the agency also works closely with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), Virginia Cooperative Extension, and a multitude of other agriculture, education, and health organizations. These groups have made numerous resources available to both farmers and schools. An excellent place to get started is the Virginia Farm to School website, where visitors can find information specific to Virginia, as well as contact Trista Grigsby, the Farm to School Specialist at VDOE.
For farmers, supplying food to schools is a unique opportunity to expand markets, promote products, and engage with the local community. This year, on October 4th at 10:00 a.m., schools showed their support for Virginia Farm to School by joining in “The Crunch Heard ‘Round the Commonwealth,” where participants simultaneously took a bite out of a locally-grown apple. Farmers, your products could be “crunched” on next year! If you are a producer and interested in selling to schools, be sure to check out USDA’s many resources, including guides to on-farm food safety, which is a major consideration when interacting with schools. An in-state contact is the VDACS Office of Food Distribution.
Schools participating in Farm to School can provide benefits to their students, not only through access to healthy, fresh food, but also by incorporating agriculture and nutrition instruction with a variety of educational activities. More information can also be found on the VDOE website. For schools interested in purchasing local products, this USDA presentation is a helpful guide to navigating the often complex maze of procurement regulations.
Happy National Farm to School Month!