Louisiana Farm to School Program Provides Knowledge and Resources

A Louisiana Farm To School program from the LSU AgCenter has been promoting school gardening practices, gardening education, and local food procurement to Louisiana students and educators, and it’s set to expand its operations. According to this article from The Advocate. Since 2017, the program, Seeds to Success, which is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture through the Louisiana Department of Education, is set to provide expert training of agricultural literacy and knowledge to both students and teachers.

Today, 981 schools throughout Louisiana are participating in the Seeds to Success program, meaning that over a half a million students are being reached by the program and its benefits. In addition to this participation rate, nearly 70% of the participating schools are serving food that is locally or regionally sourced. Additionally, 52.9% of the schools are providing food, nutrition, or agricultural education to their students, and 36.5% of the schools have their own edible gardens on campus.

Crystal Besse is the Program Director of the farm to school program, Seeds to Success, and she describes one of the design aims of the program by saying, “Seeds to Success is designed to increase access to fresh, local foods while strengthening local communities and their economy.” Carl Motsenbocker is the program’s executive director, and when describing how the program is operating at this time of year, he said, “it’s like I’m busier than I’ve ever been. It’s like … isn’t it time to slow down a little bit? But there’s just so much work to do, and that’s been a great thing for us.”

Motsenbocker began the Seeds to Success program after years of recognizing that there was a growing need in the state for more widespread, healthy eating practices. Motsenbocker had also worked on a similar program at Slow Food Baton Rouge; the program involved school gardens growing seasonal produce. Slow Food Baton Rouge eventually led to the founding of Seeds to Success. In describing the origins of the idea, Motsenbocker said, “I started back in the 1990s doing service projects and putting in gardens at schools, working with kids growing food. I realized we needed to start younger, that we’ve got to get the kids when they’re little to eat better fruits and vegetables. They’re supposed to be eating five servings a day, but the average American eats barely one.”

At Seeds to Success, they boast of a plethora of programs, although it is worth mentioning the two main ones that have captured their current attention. It is impossible to overlook the Louisiana Harvest of the Month program, which meticulously showcases a myriad of Louisiana crops that can be locally and seasonally grown. The program is renowned for its superb high-quality videos that have been produced by the local PBS affiliate LPB. The videos cover a wide range of topics, from crawfish to rice, and ingeniously demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between the two crops. The program also offers a rich assortment of resources on how to grow and cook these crops to perfection. Another notable program that has taken center stage is Seeding LA, which was launched in 2021. During its inception, Seeding LA generously distributed more than 1,600 seed packets to various Louisiana schools, and in addition, over 1,000 seed starter kits were also distributed to deserving teachers.

At Seeds to Success, their farm to school endeavors are not solely concentrated on students. A significant portion of the program is geared towards farmers, with the aim of assisting them in expanding their reach and selling their products to a broader range of institutions, such as schools and hospitals. Through this program, not only does it promote healthy eating habits, but it also creates a substantial economic stimulus, making it a win-win for everyone involved. By providing the necessary resources and support, Seeds to Success helps farmers maximize their potential and develop sustainable business models, which in turn helps boost the local economy while providing nutritious food options to communities.

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Program Brings Louisiana Farming to Classrooms

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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