The statewide effort helps school nutrition professionals and educators incorporate Texas agriculture products into school meals, increase agricultural education and teach students more about the importance of the state’s agriculture industry.
TDA’s Farm to School coordinator, Alyssa Herold, says she uses several models to help schools and agricultural producers show children the connection between farms and forks.
“Sometimes I’m contacted by a producer who wants to sell products to schools in their county or city,” Herold says. “Other times, I’m contacted by a school’s nutrition administrator looking to incorporate local products into their school meals. I connect them with local farmers and encourage them to teach students in the process, through a field trip to the farm or a ‘Meet the Farmer’ day.”
The educational component of Farm to School is just as important as helping schools and agricultural producers establish purchasing relationships.
That’s why TDA supports schools in any way they want to participate. Along with using fresh foods from local farmers in lunches, some schools also have started growing their own produce in educational gardens.
Susan LeBlanc, child nutrition director at Barbers Hill Independent School District in Mont Belvieu, Texas, started an educational gardening program at each of the district’s three campuses.
“The kids have been so excited about this project,” she says. “I knew students would enjoy the hands-on experience, but it has been amazing.”
Students in second, fifth and seventh grades can help plant, tend to and harvest crops in the school’s garden with LeBlanc.
Texas students clearly benefit from the program, but Herold says it’s ideal for producers as well. “Selling products to schools gives producers an opportunity to diversify. Schools can act as a consistent buyer.”
Most schools look for fresh produce from farmers, though there are still some that use protein and eggs as well.
Herold hopes that as the initiative continues to grow, students will be able to enjoy as many local Texas products as possible, while also learning the importance of agriculture and its potential for a future career.
For more information on Texas’ Farm to School initiative, visit www.squaremeals.org/FarmtoSchool.