More students in Alachua County Public Schools will enjoy fresh produce in their school lunches thanks to a grant awarded by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The $50,000 grant was awarded to certain school districts in Florida that showed growth in the number of schools receiving locally sourced produce as a part of their Farm to School program. About 17 percent of the total food served in Alachua County Public Schools is locally sourced.
Farm to School connects schools with local, nutritious food and produce and gives students the opportunity to know where their school lunch is coming from, said the coordinator of Farm to School for Alachua County Public Schools Kelli Brew.
The grant will be used to purchase a refrigerated truck to better distribute produce to all 45 schools in the district. Now, only 24 schools with students who have primarily free or reduced lunch get the fresh produce, Brew said.
“Right now, regardless of how much food we can purchase from local farms, we’re limited because we can’t get it to all the 45 schools in the district,” Brew said. “This will allow us to do more of the distribution, and we can get it to hopefully all of the schools in the county next year.”
The co-founder of Frog Songs Organic farm in Hawthorne, Amy Van Scoik, said working with the school district in the past was rewarding, especially knowing kids were learning about where their food came from.
“It’s very beneficial if you know that you have a contract for selling an item for the whole season because you can know how much to plant, and you know that the product is already sold,” Van Scoik said.
She said one of the requirements in the bidding process for the schools is hosting a field trip, something she says gives students the hands-on learning experience that will connect them to their food and hopefully encourage students to continue to eat fresh produce.
“It really makes sense because the students can not only get fresher, more nutritious produce, but also it provides an opportunity for them to learn about farming that is going on in their community,” Van Scoik said.
National studies have shown that kids who see their food grow, or know who is growing it, will be more likely to choose fruits and vegetables over unhealthier options. A University of Florida IFAS study was able to confirm this at the local level, Brew said.
Maria Eunice, director for Alachua Food and Nutrition Services, said the refrigerated truck will solve the biggest challenge Food to School faces in Alachua: getting the produce delivered.
“It’s very fresh,” Eunice said. “Within a few days of being harvested it goes out into the salads and we use it on the line of the fresh fruit or vegetable offering of the day.”
Students have been getting more and more involved with Farm to School, especially with the new Harvest of the Month program. Every month, a farmer is chosen to deliver a special harvest to schools, and the fruit or vegetable is featured on a card-like handout with the farmer on the back, Eunice said.
Students have even begun collecting the cards and are excited to see next month’s featured harvest. Last month it was Muscadines.
“I think it’s an enriching experience both nutritionally and from a learning perspective,” Van Scoik said. “I think that the effort and money that’s spent on the people working on this is worthwhile.”