Rise of campus-grown fresh produce
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Last month, the Virginia Department of Education allocated roughly $100,000 toward multiple farm-to-school programs in the region. Received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the fund will be distributed evenly among eight projects that will focus on getting locally grown fresh produce to schools.
In an era of intense focus on food security and sustainability, the farm-to-school concept is quickly taking over the landscape. Increasing awareness and participation in such projects may fund more capitalization and help each county become more self-sustainable within the realm of agricultural advances.
Some campuses in the state, like the Rappahannock County Public Schools, already have farm-to-school programs in place and have local produce like farm-fresh apples delivered to them. Now they are looking at increasing the fresh food supply. This means negotiating with more farmers and taking on the challenges of seasonal produce.
Rappahannock County Elementary School, in fact, has a farm-to-table class for students, teaching them the importance of sustainability early on. More campuses are joining the program which includes everything from gardening, nurturing and cooking with fresh produce.
Locally-sourced food is a big favorite with diners and shoppers, but now farm-to-table is giving way to something even better with the farm-to-school culture. Local food sourcing is gaining a lot of support from teachers, parents and nutritionists as they will not only increase fresh fruit and vegetable use in the cafeterias but also involve students in the process.
When done well, these projects can take on a whole new culture of their own. A case, for example, is the College of Lake County in Illinois, whose farm market on Thursday afternoons has become a big hit in the region.
Campus-grown produce like beets, carrots, lettuces, radishes, herbs and fresh flowers are snapped up quickly by locals every week. Some have even commented that the superior quality of the produce equaled those of specialty restaurants.
What's remarkable about this project is that the proceeds from the farm market help fund and support internship programs at the college for horticulture and sustainable agriculture studies.
Buying organic produce is no longer a fad; it is the favored form of grocery shopping for the modern-day buyer. Campus-grown fresh produce teaches students to plant and rotate crops, focus on soil preservation and proper fertilization, use organic pesticides, spreading compost and remove weeds by hand, and washing the vegetables among other techniques.
The project has generated much interest, and locals have demanded more variety. The garden's growing space has now expanded by 13,000 square feet to grow more produce and flowers and accommodate these requests.
Michigan State University (MSU) Culinary Services seamlessly ties into academic programs that are associated with agricultural studies. Ingredients grown right on campus are used for cooking demos, help students learn to farm sustainably, increase awareness for fresh produce and close the food loop at MSU.
The plan is to extend the knowledge and availability to the broader community across the state. Weekly farmers markets held on the Davidson campus and Heathwood Hall Episcopal School are similar success stories that connect the land with the community and students while supporting the local farmers and food system.
The farm-to-school concept, which leads to sustainability, combats food shortage and prevents food waste, is fast growing roots in more campuses. It is easy to involve the children and teach the importance of food preservation, food sourcing and see meal plan participation.
Fewer students will go hungry, and all those who participate will gain better nutrition with these healthy school food options.
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