Farm to School programs connect students to local producers who provide fresh, healthy food served in the school cafeteria, but in Ohio it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. From school gardens to collaborations with networks of producers, Ohio’s Farm to School movement reaches students in urban and rural school districts at both ends of the economic spectrum. Students in Granville Exempted Village Schools are raising chickens for eggs, growing their own produce and eating meat raised within just a few miles of their cafeteria. In the Federal Hocking school district, students have unlimited access to fresh fruit throughout the day – just one benefit of having a network of partners involved in the Farm to School program.
Two very different school districts with the same commitment: serving students the freshest local food available.
Partnerships Feed Federal Hocking
Federal Hocking is recognized as a top district in Ohio for having the highest percentage of its food budget spent locally, according to the USDA Farm to School Census. Carrie Carson, the Food Partners Access coordinator, facilitates partnerships between the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks, Community Food Initiatives, Rural Action and Live Healthy Appalachia to expand local food access in Appalachian communities.
“It takes a lot of partners to make all of this happen,” she says. “So many people have come to the table and invested their time and resources.”
Rural Action sources local food for Federal Hocking district from Chesterhill Produce Auction, a food hub serving approximately 200 growers from small, diversified farms. The produce goes to the Hocking College or the SEO Foodbank to be processed by students, volunteers and national service members. Prepared produce is distributed fresh for immediate use or vacuum-sealed, frozen and stored to be served throughout the year. School gardens are also part of the program, as are cooking classes for second graders.
This cooperative effort helps schools succeed by reducing knowledge, time and budget obstacles that could prevent the purchase of fresh, whole foods, Carson says.
Supporting the producers is also a priority.
“Farm to school has to be about the farmers, too,” Carson says. “We just started a farm incubator at the auction site. With growing demand from schools and regional institutions, we need more production. Through peer-to-peer education and by providing physical growing space, we are bringing more people into farming.”
In Granville, It’s All About Local
“The more local, the better,” says Jonathan Harbaugh, resident director and executive chef of Granville Exempted Village Schools. The schools work directly with 18 vendors and with another dozen or so through a produce alliance.
“Students are excited when they learn the beef is raised less than 3 miles from the school,” Chef Harbaugh says.
High school students grow produce in a garden just outside of the cafeteria and raise chickens that provide fresh eggs. In a recent season, the garden produced 20 pounds of jalapeño and serrano peppers, too many to serve in the cafeteria. “We made a hot sauce
to be used as a condiment and gave that to the students for a few weeks,” he says.
There’s a teaching element to the program that includes cooking demonstrations with recipes for students to take home.
The fresh food is always appealing, whether it comes from their own garden or from local producers. “Students love to pick the produce and then see it on their plates the next day – and sometimes even the same day.”
See more: Teaching Kids About Ohio’s Pork Farms
At times, the produce from local growers challenges the students to try something unfamiliar. Golden watermelon was a big hit, while ground cherries (essentially sweet tomatillos) were not quite as popular, though students did give them a go. When the school purchased locally grown golden and red beets, pickled beets became a popular salad bar selection.
“They were gone in a day. No kid I know personally would be excited about pickled beets,” Harbaugh says. “These kids are excited because they are learning if the food is fresh and local, it’s worth trying.”