Back to Farm to School!

united stated department of agriculture logo

Volume 4, Issue 15, August 14, 2018

The Dirt - New and Notes from FNS's Office of Community Food Systems
Pile of red and green bell peppers
This beautiful bounty of bell peppers was grown by Fairacre Farm in South Dakota.

Back to School and Back to the Farm

Integrating Farm to School with FFVP

The sun is setting on summer vacation and teachers and families are preparing for a new school year, but they’re not the only ones. Nutrition departments across the nation are serving their final summer meals and gearing up for the start of their school programs. One such program is the popular Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP). Started in 2002, the FFVP provides funding for fresh fruit and vegetable snacks for elementary school students. FFVP schools have the highest rates of free or reduced-price lunch eligibility, helping to reach children who may not have access to fresh produce at home.

The FFVP supports a healthy school environment by increasing students’ exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables. Schools are encouraged to offer food and nutrition education along with the nutritious snack, making FFVP a perfect component of your farm to school program.  Schools across the country are already working with local farmers and producers to provide new and exciting produce for their FFVP. Serving vibrant, fresh, and local produce entices students to try new fruits and vegetables, while educating them about their local agricultural community. Read on to learn how districts across the nation are brining the farm to FFVP!

Crate of apples

St. Paul School District, Minnesota

Despite harsh Minnesota winters, the Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) Nutrition Services’ team works throughout the year to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for their FFVP. To keep the kids interested and the program fun, monthly themes are developed, such as “Apple Fest” and “Berry Berry Good”. During National Farm to School month, SPPS takes advantage of fall harvests by featuring Minnesota-grown products every week. Last October, SPPS FFVP scholars had the opportunity to devour local green beans, apple slices, butternut squash cubes, and zucchini coins. The District uses monthly newsletters to introduce the theme, promote the menu, relay fun facts, and supply teachers with short classroom activities.  The newsletters identify local items and farms, while offering tidbits of agriculture education. For example, did you know that the Honeycrisp Apple is Minnesota’s official state fruit? Saint Paul’s FFVP students did!

Box full of cherry tomatoes

Huron Public Schools & Fairacre Farm, South Dakota

Huron Public Schools in South Dakota provides a variety of local produce for all of their nutrition programs: FFVP, school meals, and summer lunch, including their summer mobile program! The District partners with local farmers Kyle and Frances Koehn of Fairacre Farm to supply fresh produce to the school. Winter can be long in South Dakota, but with their high tunnel greenhouse and 8-acre farm, Fairacre is able to supply a variety of vegetables even in the coldest of months. Depending on the season, Fairacre provides tomatoes, carrots, arugula, snow peas, peppers, okra, and over a dozen other vegetables to the District. Carol Tompkins, the Nutrition Director at Huron School District, praises Fairacre for their partnership and creativity. “They worked hard at growing year-round for us, which is very tough in South Dakota, but they made it happen.  They built an incredible high tunnel and used innovative methods to not only grow year-round, but in volume that we might need. They are the innovators and the sustainers of this FFVP here…all the credit is really theirs."

Greely Evans School District Farm to School Logo

Greely-Evans Weld County School District 6, Colorado

At Greeley-Evans Weld County School District 6 in Colorado, Farm to FFVP is just one component of a robust farm to school program. Made possible with approval from the Colorado Department of Education, the District utilized some FFVP funds to purchase packaging equipment that will allow them to process local products in-house. Combined with their local procurement strategy, District 6 is looking to serve even more local produce through FFVP this school year.  

The District’s FFVP schools often implement the “Chef in the Classroom” nutrition education program, which includes a variety of lessons, such as Farm to School, School Gardens, Culinary Careers, and Food Waste. Students learn about a number of different food and agriculture concepts, such as the various parts of a plant, the benefits of buying local, and how to read a map showcasing Colorado agriculture. The Program also highlights local foods served in the school lunches, further tying the classroom to the cafeteria!

The District has also created an FFVP Education Toolbox for kitchen managers. Managers select a Toolbox activity to complete throughout the school year. Sample activities include nutrition-themed worksheets, providing students with recipe cards that feature FFVP produce, or implementing an in-classroom nutrition education lesson! Given the District’s focus on serving local items, they aim to integrate agriculture and farm to school concepts throughout their FFVP education programs.

Finally, District 6 is working with Colorado State University (CSU) to understand how farm to school programs impact farm and ranch profitability, and influence student's consumption of fruits and vegetables, as well as household's purchases. As part of this work, CSU will be using national retail scanner data to see if there is a higher prevalence of local purchases made in regions with more robust farm to school programs. CSU will also conduct a plate waste study to measure students’ preference for locally sourced products as part of the FFVP. Specifically, they will evaluate preference for local verse conventional bell peppers, carrots, apples, and cherry tomatoes. CSU received funding for this study from USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.  

From local produce to nutrition education to research, District 6’s Farm to FFVP is in full bloom!

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Kids Eat Right Month Logo

Kids Eat Right Month

The month of August is back to school for kids across the country. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics takes this month to acknowledge the healthy future we can provide for our nation’s children. Kids Eat Right Month focuses on the importance of healthful eating and active lifestyles for children and families, featuring expert advice from registered dietitian nutritionists to help families shop smart, cook healthy and eat right. The Academy has a variety of online resources and tools that may help you spread your healthy food message.

Girls in corn field

Atlantic Public Schools Shows Its "Corny" Side!

Q: Why didn't anyone laugh at the farmer’s joke?

A: Because it was too corny!

Iowa is well known for its fantastic sweet corn, and Atlantic Community School District in Southwest Iowa wanted to make sure their students had a chance to taste the good stuff. The district, a USDA Farm to School Grantee, hosted the first ever Sweet Corn Day on July 21, 2018.  About 4,000 ears of corn were harvested, shucked, cleaned and processed for the school’s lunch program. You had better believe it was local – the corn was grown just 10 miles from the school, and students loved its fresh, sweet crunch! Twenty-five volunteers helped to make Sweet Corn Day happen, including students, staff, and community members. This generous support indicated the community’s widespread approval of Atlantic Public School’s commitment to expand its farm to school program. For them, sweet corn was just the beginning, as Atlantic students will enjoy local produce this fall and winter!