Farmers, schools and students all benefit when partnerships form
By GARY BROCK
COLUMBUS — It is a natural partnership.
More and more Ohio school districts and local farmers are finding there are big advantages to working together, for the farmers, for the districts and most importantly — for the students.
That is where the Ohio State University’s “Farm to School Network” program comes in.
Julie Fox, director of the OSU Farm to School program, sees many advantages to the program, and thinks the timing today could not be better for farmers and local school districts to partner in providing food and agriculture education for schools.
“There are really two areas of the program,” she told Acres of Southwest Ohio in a recent interview. “First, there is the program to get local, healthy, fresh food in our students’ cafeterias.”
She said the program is a natural since new federal school lunch guidelines require more fresh produce be part of the school cafeteria student lunches.
Schools are increasingly purchasing a variety of foods from local farmers and distributors because new school meal guidelines require an increase in the quantity and diversity of fruits and vegetables, Fox said.
October was Farm to School month in Ohio and the nation, and OSU provided a wealth of information about the programs available to school districts and farm groups.
“There’s a lot of good momentum right now going on in the Farm to School program,” Fox said in a release last month by the OSU Extension Service. “With the recent signing of the resolution of Farm to School month in Ohio from Gov. John Kasich to the growing partnerships we are developing with schools and organizations statewide, the Farm to School program is benefiting more and more people.”
Some of the new resources available to Ohio schools include $100,000 in mini-grants from the Ohio Department of Education to fund local Farm to School projects and a new Seed to Salad Tool Kit offered by the Ohio Department of Health, she said.
Ohio State will also host a statewide Farm to School conference March 13, 2013, Fox said.
Fox said one of the most important things for farmers to know is exactly what produce school districts need, how the food is packaged and how much the districts pay for their food. She also said it was important for farmers to develop key relationships with school officials such as superintendents and business managers at the schools.
In Fayette County, Miami Trace Superintendent Dan Roberts says that about 5 percent of the food served in his district’s cafeterias is produced by local farmers. He says this is not a lot, and hopes that this percentage will increase in the future. “That is especially true now with the new federal guidelines and the incentive programs available.”
He said there is now “a greater emphasis on healthy foods, fresh fruits and vegetables” and the best way to meet this emphasis is from locally-produced food.
“We have a great interest in increasing our partnership with local farmers,” he said.
He points out that Miami Trace has a strong FFA program for its students, and the Ohio Farm Bureau is very active in Fayette County in support of the schools.
“By helping farmers understand how schools operate, the Farm to School connection can be easy,” Fox said.