Just 15 years ago there were only two known farm to school programs in the entire country. Now, they are in more than 40,000 schools and in every single state. Local food is highlighted in cafeterias and also in education programs in school classrooms and gardens.
And in 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives declared October National Farm to School Month to recognize the strong role Farm to School plays in promoting good health and strong economies.
So, to celebrate National Farm to School Month and the 10-year anniversary of farm to school programming in northwest Michigan, we asked a few of our strongest allies why they support farm to school in our community.
“There are so many reasons… I love the connection that kids are making between agriculture, nutrition, and the environment when they are able to participate in growing and tasting new food. My hope is that these lessons and experiences translate into positive behaviors as they grow into adults and make their own decisions about the food they choose to eat and feed their families.”
—Jodi Jocks, Registered Dietitian, Traverse City Area Public Schools
“We live in such a wonderful agricultural area, it would be a shame to not highlight our local produce. In doing so, we support our farmers, the kids benefit from fresh produce, and the variety available is sometimes better than what I can order through our food distributor. The kids love eating something that may have been grown just down the road. We try to let them know where our produce is coming from and if there is a student who’s farm grew the apples, etc. we make it known.”
—Janis Groomes, Food Service Director, Northport Public Schools.
“From the local school standpoint, the local food service directors tell us the kids really like and eat the farm fresh produce we provide and it helps them meet their healthy meals goals. From our farm standpoint, it helps us market our produce locally and is a significant part of our business.”
—Jim Bardenhagen, co-owner Bardenhagen Farms
“Farm to school is a great asset to my students. They love being in the garden, harvesting, learning about different plants, and most importantly, trying new things. They have really enjoyed the taste tests, and new recipes, and have shared them with their parents. We are so glad to be part of this, as they are developing healthy habits at an early age.”
—Sara Bageris, Third-Grade Teacher, Central Grade Elementary
“I support Farm to School because of the opportunities for experiential and service learning as well as the potential for developing healthy living habits. The students learn so much more than the required state standards. They are able to learn those standards in very relevant and meaningful ways.”
—Cathy Meyer-Looze, Specialist, Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District
“I support Farm to School because it creates jobs and financial support for local farmers and businesses. It also ensures that our customers get a fresher product with great taste. This is all done by feeding our children healthier meals, so I ask why would anyone not support Farm to School.”
—Tom Freitas, Food Service Director, Traverse City Area Public Schools
“I love our farmer to community fundraiser. Why sell overpriced, cheaply made foreign trinkets that nobody wants when you can sell quality local farm products you can daily use? Why support distant, mega-sized businesses when you can support your local farmers and people who work for them?”
—Tim Vanderhart, Third-Fourth-Grade Teacher, Central Lake Public Schools
“The reason we have a farm to school program is it helps support our local economy. It gets fresher food in front of our patrons (students). On a broader scale, it is what our parents and students want and are increasingly expecting. I also think that it helps with our bottom line.”
—Dave Ruszel, Food Service Director, Leland Public Schools
Farm to school is incredibly important these days when more and more people are disconnected from the source of their food and don’t always eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables! Farm to school not only teaches kids about vegetables but introduces them to the amazing variety, delicious taste, and beauty of fresh produce! Some of these children may become tomorrow’s sustainable farmers, and all of them may become healthy eaters, which is good for them now and for their future families!
—Andrea Romeyn, Farmer/Owner Providence Farm & CSA
Join in on the conversation. Tag Northwest Michigan Farm to School and use the hashtag #whyfarmtoschool!
Meghan McDermott is a FoodCorps Service Member with the Michigan Land Use Institute, and is working with food service directors and teachers in northwest Lower Michigan on farm to school programming.