CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia schools are working to incorporate more locally grown food into school meals through the Farm to School program. Superintendent Jorea Marple this week joined students for lunch at at Leon Elementary School in Mason County, where everything on the menu was produced locally.
“From the beef for the hamburgers and the wheat ground into flour to bake the buns to the watermelon and peppers on the garden bar, all of it was raised or grown in Mason County,” said Principal Don Bower. “It’s not fancy, but everything is homegrown.”
The movement to organize Farm to School projects across the country came from farmers, schools, parents and community groups. Such programs help support the local economy while building stronger community relationships and improving school nutrition programs.
“When we provide children with food grown locally, we are providing them with high quality food that is harvested at its peak of freshness and nutritional value,” Marple said. “Plus, such food often just tastes better. If it tastes good, children are more likely to eat the fruits and vegetables we want them to.”
Like Leon Elementary, schools across West Virginia are participating in Farm to School efforts. In Tucker County, student-grown lettuce appears on cafeteria trays. In Cabell County, potatoes grown locally are used in food service, while in Fayette County locally grown strawberries are served to students.
The Farm to School program is one of many progressive child nutrition programs offered through the West Virginia Department of Education. Since 1994, the West Virginia Board of Education has included health and wellness in its goals and priorities and strengthened its nutrition standards. More fruits and vegetables were added to school meals and schools are encouraged to cook more with fresh ingredients.
The Centers for Disease Control has posted on its Center for Excellence website the West Virginia Board of Education Policy 4321.1: Standards for School Nutrition. The policy is listed as an example for other schools to duplicate. West Virginia is noted for its design to improve the nutritional quality of foods in schools and reduce marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to students.
Strong nutrition programs are especially important in West Virginia, where nearly 150,000 children are considered needy and qualify for free and reduced-priced school meals. About 85,200 West Virginia children live in homes where they don’t know how they will get their next meal. Public schools helped those children and others by serving 14.8 million breakfasts and 32.3 million lunches last year.
This recent event was a collaboration of the West Virginia Department of Education, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, West Virginia University Extension Service and Mason County Schools. For more information, contact the West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Communication at 304-558-2699.