Fish sticks, tater tots and sloppy Joes. Does this sound like your child’s school lunch? Not if you live in Licking County, or in a growing number of school systems across the state, who are ditching frozen and processed foods in favor of fresh and local meals.
There are now more than 2,300 Farm to School programs across the country serving healthy meals in school cafeterias and providing educational opportunities to students about agriculture, health and nutrition.
This October is the first National Farm to School Month, giving us an opportunity to celebrate the connections that are happening in Ohio and all over the country between schools and farmers.
Because of these partnerships, in the Granville school district, beef and pork come from farms in Granville and Zanesville, a baker in Pataskala supplies fresh-made bread, and apples come from a farm 15 miles away. Granola, cookies and tea come from farms and bakeries only 2 miles away. The turkey sandwiches are made from fresh turkey breast carved in the school kitchen, and the pasta dough is made fresh daily. This year, Granville expects to source 45 percent of their food from farms and dairies within 50 miles of the school.
Farm to School programs are based on the idea that students will choose healthier foods, including more fruits and vegetables, if they are fresh, picked at the peak of their flavor and if those choices are reinforced with educational activities.
This idea has borne fruit in Granville. After contracting with AVI Food Systems, the percentage of students purchasing school lunches grew from 22 to 67 percent. Nationally, the choice of healthier options in Farm to School cafeterias has increased daily fruit and vegetable consumption, both at school and at home. Increased access to nutritious meals and food education help students develop healthy eating habits and reduce their risk for obesity and other health issues.
In addition to serving up healthier food choices, the school has incorporated gardening into their curriculum to help teach students about where their food comes from. Granville High School started an organic garden eight years ago, which is part of the curriculum for two science classes and a summer school class in sustainability. The garden produces vegetables for the school lunch program and for a summer farm market.
Because of this integrative approach, Farm to School programs benefit the entire community: children, farmers, parents and teachers. Farm to School programs open up new markets for farmers, and increase demand for local and sustainably-produced food. Such initiatives help keep food dollars in the local economy, and create a generation of informed food consumers, who understand not only the nutritional significance of their food choices, but also the economic, environmental and social impacts as well.