CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Fresh food from farms across West Virginia is the main ingredient in the first ever Farm to School Showcase sponsored by the Farm to School Collaborative. The showcase features students, teachers and local farmers who have successfully implemented the Farm to School program in their counties and schools. This event is part of the kick-off for the 9th Annual Cast Iron Cook-Off at the Greenbrier Resort taking place Jan. 17 – 18, 2014.
“When county school systems purchase local products from farmers, the food served in our schools is not only fresher, but the local dollars stay in the community,” said James Phares, West Virginia Superintendent of Schools. “The economic and community development opportunities with the farm to school initiative in West Virginia are limitless and the impact is real. This showcase brings the benefits of the Farm to School initiative center stage.”
“Farm to School presents a tremendous opportunity for our state and our agricultural community,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick. “We spend around $100 million a year on school food. Although we’ll never capture all that money, we could be keeping a substantial portion of it in our state where it can help our farmers, build our communities, and provide our students fresher, better meals.”
The showcase features three key components: grow, educate and sell.
Grow - Learn how local farmers, two of which are high school students, have overcome the barriers and made farming financial viable. Also learn about how these student farmers have been able to interface with county food service programs.
Educate- Presenters will discuss how to successfully incorporate school gardens and garden based learning into elementary curriculum and how to implement a comprehensive farm to school program that involves both Agricultural Education and Pro Start Students.
Sell- Incorporating local foods into school meals is no easy task. Presenters from two county school systems will share how they have been able to overcome the barriers.
West Virginia Farm to School Collaborative partners include the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE), the West Virginia Division of Agriculture, West Virginia University Cooperative Extension - Small Farms Center, Collaborative for 21st Century Appalachia and New Appalachian Farm and Research Center.
Three years ago the WVDE hired a full-time F2S coordinator to work around the state, provided grants to agricultural education programs to enhance onsite growing projects, funded student farmers through entrepreneurial grants, and provided incentives for counties to purchase local products. Currently, the Farm to School program operates in more than 30 West Virginia county school systems.
F2S Quick Facts:
· Since 2012 almost $900 thousand was spent on local products in West Virginia schools
· More than 30 counties purchased local foods for schools last year
· 13 agricultural education programs have been funded
· WVDE recently awarded $58 thousand to fund an additional 11 agricultural education programs for the 2013-2014 school year using funds from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources
· 16 schools were funded with $2,000 start-up grants from United States Department of Agriculture Team Nutrition funds
· More than 60 students were funded with entrepreneurial grants to start their own farming business and these students have sold over $44 thousand worth of products to West Virginia schools
· The WVDE will be sponsoring ten AmeriCorps members with funding from Volunteer West Virginia and the Benedum Foundation to help counties around the state with their Farm to School efforts
For more information about the showcase or the Farm to School program, contact Liza Cordeiro in the WVDE Communication Office at 304-558-2699.