Partnership Spotlight 3: Virginia Farm to School (F2S) Efforts

Some children participants at Families, Food, and Fun after-school program

For many years, the whole farm to fork movement, and the increased demand for children to have access to more fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthier lifestyles, have propelled great strides in the National Farm to School movement.  Collaborations between Virginia Cooperative Extension and folks working on various Farm to School efforts in Virginia are nothing new.  For example, lots of work has been done with the Family Nutrition Program in public schools, such as programs like “Families, Food, and Fun”–a partnership with Harrisonburg City Schools and VCE–in which some of the food used for cooking on site highlighted locally sourced produce and meats.  There are many other similar initiatives, too numerous to mention here.

More recently, the Fresh Produce Food Safety Team has been partnering with the Virginia Department of Education Farm to School program, working closely with F2S specialist Trista Grigsby.  A series of eight regional meetings were held around the state in February and March, 2018.  These meetings included an overview on food safety, procurement, and delivery/ distribution issues.  A key part of these interactive meetings was to develop networks and establish a roadmap for next steps in the Virginia F2S movement.  Participants ranged from school cafeteria and nutrition directors and school affiliated program leads, to recycling program directors, distributors, food hubs, farmers, non-profit groups, and other folks working with regional food systems.

One of eight regional kickoff meetings held in Virginia in February 2018, in which Trista Grigsby enthusiastically engaged key stakeholders to develop a vision for increasing access to more locally-grown foods in schools
Procurement talk sharing how ingredients can be locally sourced and used in breakfast, lunch, and after-school programs

Another outcome of the regional meetings, was that relationships among participants, both old and new, were fostered.  In fact, a direct outcome was a collaboration with FRESH and VCE-Fauquier.   FRESH (Fauquier Reaches for Excellence in School Health) is a county-wide program to create a culture of health and wellness for students, staff and the community. The program is funded by a grant from the PATH Foundation, and focuses on creating positive and healthy changes in classrooms, cafeterias, after-school settings, and within the community.

In August, FRESH held a Farm to School Food Safety Training at Airlie Farm and Conference Center.  The training consisted of plenary sessions, along with two break-outs for Fauquier County School Nutrition Department staff.  The first breakout session, “Think Fresh and Fly”,  gave hands-on experience thinking on the fly to incorporate last minute additions of locally grown, seasonal produce into the current menu cycle with less than a day’s notice.  The second breakout session, “On farm food safety”,  gave participants an opportunity to see the farm side of ‘farm to school’ in order to help them be better prepared for the sorts of things to look for when sourcing produce locally.

Participants visiting Airlie’s Local Food Project garden as part of the second breakout session
Tim Ohlwiler, VCE-Fauquier, and I co-taught about on-farm food safety risks, including a walk around the garden and an exercise in which small groups identified risks given different scenarios.
One of the laminated photos used in the identification exercise

The training was a wonderful opportunity for staff to learn more about on-farm food safety risks, and how they can be more aware of possible contamination issues of produce they might purchase and handle.  We look so forward to our continued collaboration with Farm to School efforts in Virginia.  If you are interested in becoming involved and joining the Virginia Farm to School Network, complete this form

Virginia Farm to School 2018 Survey of Producers

In a previous blog post  we shared about our with a USDA-funded project with Virginia DOE and Farm to School.  We mentioned about an upcoming survey for producers.  Well, here it is!!!  Please consider filling this survey out if you are a Virginia Producer.  Thanks!!!

Virginia Farm to School Project Seeks to Increase Locally Sourced Foods in Public Schools

A growing number of schools are gradually transitioning from pre-made foods to more fresh, scratch cooked options.  Given the emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, there is an opportunity for local growers to  gain greater access to public school systems.  According to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), there are currently 1,822 K-12 schools in Virginia as of the 2017-2018 school year. The USDA has been encouraging school districts to use locally-produced foods in school meals and to use “farm-to-school” activities to spark students’ interest in trying new foods. In an article published by NPR, they mentioned that more than a third—36 percent—of U.S school districts reported serving local foods in the 2011-12 or 2012-13 school years.  Buying local became more feasible with federal legislation that passed in 2008 as well as 2010, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture created the Farm to School program to get more healthful food in schools and link smaller U.S. farmers with a steady market of lunchrooms.

While Farm to School efforts in Virginia are certainly not new, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) recently received a USDA Farm to School Grant and is working with the National Farm to School Network and many Virginia partners to promote and increase the local sourcing of foods in Virginia public school systems.  One of the early efforts of this project is creating a road map from farm to school in which school nutrition professionals, farmers, distributors, produce company representatives, and anyone interested in Farm to School will come together help develop a common vision for how to increase access to fresh, healthy, locally grown food in schools.  VDOE is holding 8 Regional Farm to School Network Kickoff Meetings across the Commonwealth in February and March.

This work will help VDOE and all the many partners involved to chart the course for next steps in Virginia.  VCE is integrally involved in this wonderful effort and is collaborating with the regional meetings, as well as a Farm to School Survey that will build on a previous Farm to School survey conducted in 2010.  For more information on the regional meetings, please see the event section of the blog.