Farm to school goals: Healthy kids. Healthy farms.
Twelve hundred servings of locally produced cantaloupe! Farm to School Specialist Jaclyn Carroll is now working to fulfill this big order.
It’s for the Clinton Public School District. The district is working to make sure all its students know how tasty fresh, local foods can be.
Connecting kids with healthy foods. Connecting farmers with new markets. These are the twin goals of farm-to-school programs.
Help for making this happen in our rural area is available through West Central Missouri Community Action Agency’s Food Systems Program. It employs Jaclyn Carroll to assist in making the farm-to-school connections that can improve kids’ diets and expand farmers’ outlets.
Jaclyn is busy these days.
Six area school districts are currently working through Jaclyn to find and purchase local foods for school lunches, taste tests, and the cooking and nutrition curricula of Family and Consumer Science classes (Clinton, El Dorado Springs, Harrisonville, Lakeland, Warsaw, and Wheatland). Another 15 districts in the rural west central Missouri region are exploring the farm-to-school opportunity. Jaclyn’s territory includes Bates, Benton, Cass, Cedar, Henry, Hickory, Morgan, St. Clair, and Vernon counties.
Farm to School Steps
The first thing Jaclyn does is learn more about what a school is interested in doing, and ready to do. She helps work up a farm-to-school plan that fits. Then she gets to work helping the school’s food service team implement the plan.
“A big thing is what is feasible for them to work with,” Jaclyn said. “It could be something like winter squash that they can peel and dice and get a big yield from per order. Or it might be starting with some local lettuce that they could add easily to their salad bar,” she said.
Jaclyn then serves as the schools’ liaison with farmers who can supply the local foods. This includes learning about their food safety practices so schools can serve them confidently.
Small family farms are not required to have costly certifications to sell to nearby schools. Guidance from the Missouri Department of Education confirms that federal and state rules allow for the one-on-one review of a local farm supplier’s practices, which area schools can do on their own or through Jaclyn. Food-Safety-Questions-to-Ask-Your-Farmer.pdf
Fun and Funding
Getting started with farm to school is made easier by funding now available from the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Schools can get up to $1,000 in reimbursement for local foods they purchase by November 1. Area Farm-to-School Specialist Jaclyn Carroll can help schools apply for the state reimbursement.
A fun way to give it a try is the upcoming Missouri Crunch Off in October, national Farm to School Month. Missouri is competing with seven other states to see which can get the most kids biting into local produce, from apples to carrots.
The event takes place across the country and often includes entire student bodies biting into apples at the same time! Schools can email GrowingWithMO@health.mo.gov for more information and to register.
Jaclyn has scored some local apples for any that want to join in the Missouri Crunch Off.
“We are working with Gardeners’ Orchard in Brighton. They have reserved some apples for schools that want to get in the game!”
Local Love and Results
Ashley Haidusek, Food Service Director at the Warsaw R-IX School District, points to big benefits that can come from introducing students to local food and farms. She has made a farm-to-school plan with Jaclyn’s help and is now preparing to purchase and serve local items in school lunches.
“Having the students involved with what they are eating at school is a big thing,” she said. “Kids are more than likely going to eat better if they know how and what it takes to farm, and that they have a community connection to the produce that they are being served.”
Experience with farm to school programs across the nation proves her point.
In a 2020 review of farm to school results, the National Farm to School Network reports that participation in school lunches by students and faculty increased an average of 9 percent at schools with farm to school programs. That means more students eating better, and more money to school districts because their meal budgets are based on participation rates.
Other documented benefits include students consuming healthier foods at home and greater willingness to try new foods and healthy options.
New local economic activity is another documented benefit of farm to school through new markets and income for farmers, along with the business those farmers do in their local communities.
Noah Long is a young farmer in the Warsaw area that is getting involved. He’s on Warsaw Food Service Director Ashley Haidusek’s list of potential suppliers. He recently sold some produce to the Family and Consumer Science class at Wheatland R-II School in Hickory County.
“Local fresh foods are tastier and more nutritious than foods that have been shipped long distances and stored for weeks on shelves or in fridges,” Noah said. “I’m glad that the students will get a chance to experience fresh produce in school.”
Noah’s Nursery and Gardens in Edwards, near Warsaw, is a business he started in his hometown after falling in love with horticulture in high school. He attended Warsaw schools and became acquainted with raising produce and plants through a greenhouse the high school agriculture program built.
Many other farms across the region are willing and able to supply schools’ needs.
Jaclyn is confident she’ll find the cantaloupes needed for the Clinton School’s 1,200 taste test servings. One of the area’s produce auctions, supplied by local Amish and Mennonite farmers, are one likely resource.
“I love my job,” Jaclyn said. “Meeting farmers. Working with schools. Watching kids’ eyes light up along with their taste buds … it’s great!”
Call Farm to School Specialist Jaclyn Carroll at 660-476-2185 ext. 3142. Or email her at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
The farm to school project at West Central Missouri Community Action Agency’s Food Systems Program is supported by a USDA Farm to School grant.