Bringing Virginia's Bounty to School Meals
Staunton, Augusta, and Waynesboro school districts are three of several area districts that will be participating in a pilot program in which a portion of the beef served for school lunches will come from a local source – Buffalo Creek Beef in Lexington, Va. This program is the result of over a year's worth of research, coordination, and planning on the part of schools, local farmers, and community members. It is a major step for School Nutrition Programs that must function on a limited budget and which have up to now, depended on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for low cost beef and beef products.
This is yet another milestone in what School Nutrition professionals like to refer to as the "School Food Evolution" for reaching its goal of an even healthier School Meals Program. In the past three to four years schools have managed an increase in the amount of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables served in school meals. In that same time, schools have continued to strive toward lower total fat and the elimination of trans fatty acids from school food choices.
By participating in a local beef pilot program, area schools will be providing students with another product, through Farm to School programs, that have been in place for the past few years. The Farm to School program was designed to connect schools with local farms in partnerships that benefit all those involved:
- schools gain a source of locally grown food products
- farmers gain a local market for products
- students gain access to fresh local produce and other foods that are offered for school breakfast and lunch.
Farm to School programs are also an opportunity to provide students with education about the wide variety and seasonality of Virginia Grown food products.
With the Buy Fresh Buy Local movement taking place all over Virginia, rising concerns about carbon foot prints, and an interest in boosting our economy – the timing for Farm to School programs could not be better.
"The Farm-to-School program is about creating connections between growers, distributors and educational institutions. The program can play a role in addressing the problem of childhood obesity and an added benefit is that using local produce in school menus supports the Virginia Agricultural Economy."
Without an efficient distribution system, food volumes too small to supply a large number of schools, and the increased costs involved for School Nutrition Program budgets, the Farm to School Program has taken some time to build momentum. The growing season that yields much of its abundance during the summer, when schools are closed, is another problem area schools face when implementing Farm to School Programs. Schools must take advantage of the small windows of the season early fall and late spring when Virginia products are plentiful and large enough to meet demands.
August menus featured local seedless watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, peaches, nectarines, and early apples. Local products such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, greens, Asian pears and winter squashes will be featured during September and early October. Virginia apples, locally grown hydroponic bibb lettuce, and
Buffalo Creek Beef will be available and featured on school menus throughout the school year.
Each year increased support from the community and local farmers, improvements for increased production, more efficient delivery systems, and volume pricing, are helping to make the way easier to continue and expand Farm to School Programs.
Schools are proud to be able to take advantage of Virginia's rich agricultural heritage and wide range of wonderful products grown and produced right here in the Shenandoah Valley. Purchasing locally raised and processed beef and other products to serve in schools makes sense and benefits schools, students, local farm families, Virginia's economy, and the environment. It's a Win-Win situation! Now that's reason to celebrate.
Staunton, Augusta and Waynesboro school districts would like to acknowledge continued financial, administrative, consultative and organizational support from Augusta Health.
Celebrate with us and visit schools during Virginia Farm to School Week November 8-12, 2010. For more information about VA Farm to School Week, visit: http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/marketing-virginia-farm-to-school-program....
For questions or comments regarding information presented in this article please contact malbert [at] augusta.k12.va.us (Mary E. Albert, MS, RD)
Nurse's Health Corner is a service provided by Dana H. Breeding, RN Health Educator of Community Wellness, at Augusta Health. (540) 332-4988 or ((540) 932-4988.