Farm to School is a nationwide movement to get more fresh, locally grown food into school meals and raise awareness about local agriculture.
I am Joan Qazi and I am the Farm to School coordinator for Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network and I work with several school districts in Central Washington. I think Farm to School is a ‘win-win’ for students who can get tastier, nutritious food at school and for farmers who can get a new direct market for their fruits, vegetables, grains, or meats.
Here are five things you should know about Farm to School:
1. Wenatchee School District (WSD) is one of the pioneers of Farm to School in Washington State. Thanks to Food Service Director Kent Getzin and dedicated kitchen managers—Jan Holmer, Thera Judd, Paula Danielsen, and Valerie Gray, WSD has moved to more scratch cooking of farm fresh foods from about a dozen regional farms in their four main kitchens. On February 4th, Wenatchee introduced ‘Winter Taste Washington Day’ to highlight the importance of regional agriculture, by serving a Washington sourced meal and inviting farmers to talk with students in the cafeterias. The menu at Wenatchee High School included Pure Country Pork (from Ephrata) tacos and green garbanzo bean guacamole (from the Palouse) plus cabbage salsa made with Cloudview Ecofarm’s cabbage (from Royal City). Agricultural Biology students visited the elementary schools to serve roasted garbanzo beans from Central Bean in Quincy and to tell the kids about where their food comes from. The hope is that Wenatchee’s success will inspire other school districts across the state to host their own Winter Taste Washington Day.
2. Farm to School provides economic development opportunities for Central Washington. When school districts buy food from local farms, they are pumping money into the local economy instead of to distant food distributors. Research shows on average a 5% increase in income from Farm to School sales for individual farmers (www.farmtoschool.org). Many farmers appreciate the chance to feed their neighbors through school meals with just one delivery a week and the chance to gain a new direct market.
3. Farm to School provides educational benefits for students, school staff, and parents. Since teachers’ time in the classroom is stretched thin to cover all required curriculum, Farm to School programs use the lunch cafeteria as a classroom to help students learn about good nutrition, healthy food choices, and seasonality of various crops. Farmers visits and chef demonstrations give kids and staff taste-tasting opportunities and knowledge about how their food is grown and prepared.
4. School gardens or edible schoolyards are an integral part of Farm to School as they provide a space for hands-on learning about food crops. When a child plants a seed, waters it, observes plant growth, and then harvests the vegetable or herb it becomes, that child often want to taste it and tell others about their experience. Lessons in science, math, reading or writing given outside in the school garden can energize students to understand the world around them.
5. Farm to School provides public health benefits for communities by helping to create healthier school food options. The combination of nutritional education and hands-on experiential learning help children to develop long-term healthy eating behaviors. As communities struggle with issues such as diabetes and healthcare costs, Farm to School can encourage greater consumption of fruits and vegetables and even a willingness to try something new like kohlrabi or roasted delicata squash even during the cold days of winter!