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Farm to school connections continue to grow

Farm to school connections continue to grow

RICHMOND—The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School program began 15 years ago to connect school systems with local food producers, and it has continued to grow.

In the 2013-14 school year, 57% of Virginia schools participated in farm to school programs. By the 2017-18 school year, that number had increased to 75%, said Trista Grigsby, farm to school specialist in the Virginia Department of Education school nutrition programs office.

“Having an effective farm to school program requires a team effort between community members, education leaders and school nutrition professionals. And the students themselves need to be involved to make them an effective program,” Grigsby said.

The ninth annual Virginia Farm to School Week was observed Oct. 7-11. “Next year will be a decade since the General Assembly approved the program,” noted said. A total of $133,000 in farm to school grants were distributed by the education department this year.

“The number of Virginia school gardens has also increased dramatically, from 154 in a 2013 USDA survey to 577 in 2019,” Grigsby said.

School gardens link farm to school initiatives from the cafeteria to the classroom while reinforcing Virginia Standards of Learning objectives and connecting students to gardening.

October is National Farm to School Month, and several federal and state grant programs are offering funding to school districts to start or expand relevant programs.

The VDOE Office of School Nutrition Programs recently approved a grant to Wythe County public schools. Wythe County Farm Bureau board member Jonathan Grimes will use that funding for a pilot program to construct hydroponic growing systems with horticulture students at Fort Chiswell High School.

Students will grow lettuce, which will be shared with their school cafeteria. Eventually the hydroponic systems could provide lettuce for all 13 public schools in the county. Wythe County Farm Bureau is a sponsor of the new program.

The city of Richmond received $17,880 to help with farm to school outreach and instruction programs in 16 city schools, including field trips, healthy meal demonstrations and classroom visits from urban farmers. The school district also plans to use some of the funding to grow more fruits and vegetables in 11 school gardens and distribute the produce through school nutrition and after-school meal programs.

Media: Contact Grigsby at 804-225-2331 or Norm Hyde, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1146.