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AHA improves the health and well-being of Wake County residents by facilitating and supporting community initiatives.

Feeding School Children N.C. Produce: Celebrating Farm to School Month

Students at Wake County public schools are among those enjoying N.C. apples this month thanks to the NC Farm to School program.

With the local food movement taking root, you may hear of events celebrating “farm to fork” or “farm to table.” October is National Farm to School Month, and it’s a great opportunity to highlight this program that brings local and regional produce into our school cafeterias.

This month, students in the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) are enjoying North Carolina apples in the cafeteria thanks to the NC Farm to School Program, according to WCPSS Child Nutrition Services Director Marilyn Moody.

Growing the Farm to School Program in NC

 The Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, an AHA partner, recently invested in the NC Farm to School Program to increase access to healthy food and educate children about making healthy choices. Through a three-year $1.2 million grant, BSCSNCF is providing five new refrigerated tractor-trailers, which increases the distribution of local fruits and vegetables to 35 additional school systems statewide and increasing the number of farmers participating.

NCDA & CS coordinates the NC Farm to School program bringing N.C. fruits and vegetables to students throughout the state!

Plus, the grant provides for a marketing and education initiative to teach children about what is being served in the cafeteria, where it is grown, how to make nutritious choices and why a healthy diet is important.

During the 2011-2012 school year, $1.2 million in North Carolina produce was purchased by child nutrition directors across the state. Coordinated by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA & CS), the NC Farm to School program supports local farmers and provides child nutrition directors with marketing and educational support. NCDA & CS not charge any fees for this program, so 100% of the income goes to the farmers.  The cooperative does self-assess $0.50/case of produce sold, and that money is used for nutrition education materials provided to the schools free.

As part of the grant funding, the NC Farm to School Program is working to produce a marketing campaign with fliers and posters for school cafeterias that will feature photos of the growers, their families and their crops. “We want to make sure the kids know who is growing the food and make the connection that that strawberry was grown by an actual person,” said Heather Barnes, NCDA &CS Marketing Specialist. This also ties into the NC Farm to School newsletters that profile farmers in the program, Barnes said. Anyone who wishes to sign up for the newsletter may do that on the NC Farm to School web site.

The grant also supports the annual Farm to School calendar (students’ drawings are being accepted now through March for the 2013-2014 calendar), a new cookbook for child nutrition services staff, and new costumes for educational outreach. Barnes said an NC Farm to School Cookbook is in the works, featuring recipes for crops in the program and scaled for school cafeterias. “The cookbook will include information on how to cook kale, for instance, which is a new crop in our program, and recipes for serving sweet potatoes beyond the basic baked potato idea,” Barnes said.  An instructional video is underway too showing child nutrition services staff how to prepare N.C. produce, such as how to cut a watermelon to get the most servings out of it, or how to shuck corn most efficiently, Barnes said.

Bringing the Farm to School Message Home

Did you know that you could borrow fruit and veggie costumes from NCDA & CS at no charge? Suzy Strawberry joined these farmers’ market shoppers!

Teachers and parents may sign up for the NC Farm to School newsletter and access other  resources to help reinforce messages about where food comes from and making healthy choices.  Talk with children and encourage them to try the cabbage, collards and sweet potatoes that will be coming this fall and winter to WCPSS school cafeterias. Let them know that farmers from throughout North Carolina are growing this food for them!

NCDA & CS also provides costumes that schools and other organizations can borrow to promote healthy North Carolina produce. Barnes said that several costumes (Veggie Man, Suzy Strawberry and a potato costume) are all available now (free of charge—you just need to email Barnes to request a costume, pick it up and return per the guidelines). The grant will enable the program to purchase new costumes, such as a new apple, peach, blueberry, cabbage, and possibly a bean.

Of course, families also can take children to local farmers’ markets (see AHA’s map for markets in Wake County) to shop for seasonal produce and talk directly to the farmers who grew the food. Taste different types of produce and cook them together at home!

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