Farm to School: serving local produce in grab-n-go lunches

In Weakley County School lunches last week, they had locally grown, fresh strawberries.

Research shows that the most effective way to get kids excited about eating more fruits and vegetables is to engage them in the growing, cooking, and tasting of delicious, fresh produce.  This engagement is where the Weakley County Farm to School Program is playing a large role.

By working with local farmers and distributors to purchase local foods for school meals, holding seasonal tastings, developing school gardens, and bringing in local farmers to talk about what their work.

The Weakley County Farm-to- School Program is providing fun and engaging experiences for kids which can make them far more apt to try and enjoy fresh produce again when they appear on school cafeteria menus or on their plates at home.

Using the Harvest of the Month food as a focal point, the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network (LFN) has partnered with Weakley County Schools Nutrition staff to overcome challenges faced in purchasing local foods.

“As a result of connections made through the LFN, we will be serving a pint of locally grown strawberries to each child who picked up meals last Friday,” Weakley County Schools Nutrition Director Trista Snider said. “We can’t wait to see their smiles as they realize they get to take home delicious, fresh berries with them.”

The Weakley County School Nutrition Department ordered 2,000 pints of strawberries from Tyler Smith at Future Visions Farms located in Henry County.

“Supplying local schools has been a goal of ours for a couple of years;” Tyler Smith, owner of Future Vision Farms, said. “However, we just haven’t had the capacity. As we have grown to meet the production of our larger customers we have been able to begin servicing local school systems with our produce. We look forward to working with Weakley County Schools throughout our season from now until Thanksgiving.”

“Since the school district is serving multiple days at once, we have more flexibility on serving bulk produce items that don’t require preparation on the food service part,” Snider added. “We are seeking local products such as cucumbers, squash, whole tomatoes, fresh corn on the cob, and packaged blueberries, which are great options to serve for school lunches now and throughout the summer feeding program.”

Ashley Kite-Rowland of the NWTN LFN is pleased to be providing fresh strawberries to the schools in the county.

“The NWTN LFN is thrilled to have helped Weakley Schools connect with Future Visions Farm,” Kite-Rowland said. “This is especially great because strawberries are our featured local Harvest of the Month product. These strawberries will allow children across the county to get a taste of the season. Projects like this help us achieve our mission to be a catalyst and a connector of local foods in our region.”

The LFN is taking the lead role in partnership with the Weakley County School District to design and implement the Weakley County Farm-to-School Action Plan involving all 11 schools in the county with funding provided by the USDA.

What is learned through this planning process will be utilized to develop a farm-to-school model that can be replicated in school districts throughout the nine-county region.

The Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network is a nonprofit organization based out of Martin that serves as a catalyst for a thriving local food system that is accessible to all. Learn more at nwtnlfn.org/farm-to-school.

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