The Louisiana Farm to School program is a highly beneficial initiative that brings fresh, locally grown produce and vegetables to a variety of the state’s schools and preschools by way of cafeterias and classrooms, as detailed in an LSU Agricultural Center profile piece.
The Farm to School program is designed to increase students’ access to fresh, local foods while strengthening local communities and their economies. Schools can best utilize the program by having students participate in school-community gardens and by incorporating class-ready lessons into their curriculum so that students are able to learn about locally produced produce and vegetables in their community.
Funding for the program comes from the United States Department of Agriculture as well as an interagency agreement with the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and the Louisiana Department of Education Division of Nutrition services.
What began as the “Harvest of the Month” pilot program in 2015, as it was introduced to only three Louisiana schools, has since grown into the full Louisiana Farm to School program, due to its overwhelming success in teaching students about local favorites in produce and vegetation through lessons, posters, and other resources.
A 4-H sponsor and teacher at St. Mary’s Assumption School in Avoyelles Parish, Betty Jeansonne, who signed up when the program expanded state-wide in 2018 stated, “Because we live in a farming community, I want our students to understand how farming helps to drive the economy in Avoyelles Parish. Teaming up teachers, students and farmers has given us the opportunity to connect with the youth and bring agriculture to them and their families.”
The program provides Jeansonne with resources and lessons that she utilizes often in her classes. These materials encourage healthy living in her students’ lives by advocating for them to include more fruits and vegetables in their diet, embrace new options in the cafeteria, and participate in the school garden. This hands-on learning approach not only is enjoyable in the students’ eyes, but it pushes students to make positive, healthy choices. During the 2018-2019 school year, this approach has reached 55,000 Louisiana students and is set to expand year-after-year.
This latest version of the program is a much more concentrated, comprehensive effort to increase both farm to school activities and local procurement, or the careful selection of future harvesters and farmers. Each year, a Louisiana Farm to School Conference is held to provide producers and school nutrition staff opportunities to network in order to increase the use of local food in school meals.
A major highlight of the conference which is also celebrated state-wide is an event known as the “Great Louisiana Satsuma Peel,” which has attendees peel and share in the enjoyment of a Louisiana-grown satsuma. The event takes place annually on October 24th with any PreK-12 school, early care setting, hospital, colleges, universities, businesses, state agencies, and other Louisiana organizations taking part in enjoying regionally-grown satsumas and other citrus fruits.
School activities such as Farm to School help to strengthen the National School Lunch Program by increasing populations in the school lunch line as well as increasing the consumption of fruit and vegetable consumption in Louisiana schools.
For example, schools in Lafayette and Vermilion parish hold cooking competitions using seasonal produce grown in school gardens with students teaming up with local chefs to prepare competitive recipes. Each year, Lafayette Parish features the top meal on their child nutrition menu district-wide, thus making the impact outrightly noticeable by all of the program’s participants and onlookers.
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