Farm to School Profile: More Arkansas Schoolchildren Enjoying Local Foods
FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas – Fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers found their way to more Arkansas schoolchildren last year through a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SSARE)-funded Farm to School model program in the Fayetteville Public School System.
The pilot program, “Building a Model Farm to School Program Using Community Partnerships (CS11-085),” provided local produce to over 500 children for a 2012 summer lunch program. Over the 8-week period, six producers provided over 2,000 pounds of local product to Owl Creek School.
The result was a better relationship with farmers, improved community partnerships, increased visibility of locally grown foods, and the delivery of a comprehensive nutrition program that included farmer/student interactions both in the cafeteria and on the farm.
“The SSARE grant that led to the pilot summer program gave our program a much-needed boost,” said Dana Smith, sustainability coordinator with Fayetteville Public Schools. “We continue to work with community partners to offer farm field trips and healthy snack classes in the summer and Farm to School educational lunch programming at all elementary schools during the academic year. Working with our University of Arkansas partners in the horticulture department, we are also providing training opportunities for our local producers and coordinating logo development services to help with marketing their products in the schools and community.”
The Farm to School summer lunch pilot program was a collaborative effort between Fayetteville Public Schools, University of Arkansas, Apple Seeds, Inc., Feed Fayetteville, and KUAF, the northwest Arkansas NPR affiliate.
Smith said that the pilot program provided a better understanding of how a Farm to School program operates on a daily basis. Through a second SSARE grant, collaborators are taking what they learned in the summer program and applying it to schools throughout the entire academic year.
“Expansion of the Farm to School program includes incorporating local produce on salad bars at four schools, hosting educational local lunches at all elementary and middle schools, identifying additional growers, and providing more grower and school cafeteria staff trainings,” said Smith.
Through the second grant, “Next Steps: Creating a Sustainable Farm to School Program (CS12-089),” collaborators hope to identify additional challenges and solutions for establishing a Farm to School program in Northwest Arkansas.
The effort in Arkansas is just one of countless Farm to School programs being implemented across the country through the National Farm to School Network. Programs can be found in all 50 states. During the 2011-2012 school year, local fruits and vegetables reached over 5.7 million students and $13 million was spent on locally produced foods.
October is National Farm to School Month, a time to recognize the connections between local farmers/local foods and schools, as well as healthy eating among students.
Published by the Southern Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Southern SARE operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Georgia, Fort Valley State University, and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture to offer competitive grants to advance sustainable agriculture in America's Southern region.