Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine teaches children about cooking during the “Cooking at the Taste of Ohio Café” event at the Ohio State Fair; Photo by Jeff Adkins

“When talking with children, sadly, there are many times when they don’t know where their food comes from. One child told me he thought his milk came from the grocery store,” shares Micaela Wright, public information officer with the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA).

Unfortunately, with the conveniences of the modern world and the 20th-century decline in the number of farms nationwide, this misconception of where food really comes from is becoming more and more common.

As Wright observes, “the broader impact of this is that these children will grow into adults who lack knowledge about the wide variety of healthy foods available and how to cook them. It also impacts the future of the agriculture industry. When people don’t understand how their food is raised or grown, they tend to make demands about food that aren’t realistic and base their decisions on misunderstandings about their food.”

Photo by Jeff Adkins

This is one of the reasons why ODA has recently launched a new initiative to help grow the Farm to School program, which is currently part of The Ohio State University (OSU) Extension. Their efforts have included hiring new administration to serve as a point of contact for the state. Recently, the staff has been busy uncovering the current needs of the program, what people around the state are already doing and determining how the agency can best assist.

See more: Ohio City Schools Enjoy Local, Farm-Fresh Foods

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One successful collaboration has been the Farm to School program working with the Ohio Proud marketing program. A great example of this is the cooking demonstrations that were held at the Ohio State Fair in 2019. First Lady Fran DeWine was featured, among others, emphasizing the importance of food education. Demonstrations like these can be an entertaining way to showcase Ohio’s many great food products while educating kids.

Photo by Jeff Adkins

Growing Farm to School in the First Year and Beyond

Additional plans for the program include connecting more growers to schools and helping even more schools adopt the program across the state.

“There are many schools that have successfully implemented Farm to School and we are learning from those programs to create some best practices. Farm to School encompasses one or more of the following: procurement, school gardens and education,” says Cathy Corbitt, deputy director of ODA.

And so far, it has been a win-win for kids, farmers and communities alike. Creating new jobs and economic growth opportunities, improving public health and nutrition, increasing student engagement and academic achievement, and reducing food waste – these are just a few of the many benefits that Farm to School programs deliver. 

See more: How Ohio FFA and 4-H Help Young Ag Leaders Grow

In future years, ODA looks forward to developing partnerships between Ohio food processors and educational food-service providers. By helping foster stronger community ties between schools, producers, distributors and nonprofits, as well as government agencies, there will be plenty of new opportunities for the ag industry to grow and flourish.

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However, and perhaps above all, the Farm to School program will help kids across Ohio to once again grow up understanding the importance of high-quality, farm-fresh foods. And equipped with this knowledge, they will also have the opportunity to live stronger, healthier lives.

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