Attendees at the Farm to School conference on Oct. 24 at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge talk with representatives of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. (Photo by Rick Bogren/LSU AgCenter)
Grant supports Farm to School Program
The Louisiana Department of Education Division of Nutrition Support, in collaboration with LSU AgCenter, has announced a multiyear effort toward a statewide Farm to School Program.
Designed to increase the amount of locally produced foods served in schools, the three-year agreement provides $900,000 to support the program.
“Farm to school is an important tool in the fight against childhood obesity and food insecurity,” said Melissa Campbell, education program consultant for the Department of Education, which also administers school meal programs. “Farm to school projects foster healthy eating habits among school-age children, and local economies are nourished as well when schools buy the food they provide from local producers.”
According to the 2015 U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School Census, schools with strong farm to school programs report higher school meal participation, reduced food waste and increased student willingness to try new foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
During the 2013-2014 school year, Louisiana schools purchased more than $10 million of local food, including milk, said LSU AgCenter farm to school specialist Crystal Robertson. And nearly 31 percent of the districts report plans to purchase even more local foods in future school years.
Grant funds are provided by the Louisiana Department of Education through the Farm to School Program interagency agreement and partnership, which include the AgCenter, Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry as well as other collaborators throughout the state.
Louisiana statutes require the implementation of a Louisiana Farm to School Program, which is funded with restricted federal child nutrition program state administrative funds, Robertson said.
This partnership focuses on developing statewide trainings, seminars and an annual Farm to School conference.
The Louisiana Farm to School Program supports a wide range of activities, including developing an inventory of farming operations throughout the state; fostering relationships between schools and local farmers; and helping schools and districts include local farmers, food processors and suppliers in the procurement process, Robertson said.
Other aspects of the program provide specific farm to school procurement guidelines for farmers and schools and guidance to schools and districts regarding proper equipment required to prepare fresh food.
The program works to integrate classroom and hands-on activities related to agriculture, food, health and nutrition into the school curricula and develop farm to school resource materials for local schools and farmers, including a Louisiana Farm to School Handbook.
“Farm to school activities are already taking place across the state, so we are looking forward to supporting those efforts as well as inspiring new partnerships and providing a strong foundation for growth,” Robertson said.
“Over the past decade, the farm to school movement has exploded across the United States, reaching millions of students in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., said AgCenter professor Carl Motsenbocker, who heads the AgCenter effort. “From school gardens and farm field trips to local food on cafeteria trays, farm to school practices help children learn about where food comes from and make healthier choices while also creating new markets for local and regional farmers.”