School districts around Kentucky are recognizing the Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School program this week, which connects school cafeteria directors to local farmers in the state.
The idea is to increase the amount of local produce found in school lunches.
“Fruits and vegetables grown locally and served at their peak of freshness are more nutritious than produce trucked in from across the country or across the boarder,” said Agriculture Commissioner James Comer in a statement.
Aside from being more nutritious, local produce is also more appealing to kids in the cafeteria line, said Tina Garland, Farm to School program coordinator.
“Studies show that with local produce on the line, participation rates of the school children will raise, has risen anywhere from 3 to 16 percent,” she said.
In the 2011-2012 school year 84 of Kentucky’s 174 school districts bought local vegetables, fruits and meats from over 70 farmers through the Farm to School program bringing in over $285,000 in revenue for local farmers.
Local food in school cafeterias is accessible and economical, Garland said.
“Local food is not more expensive, and in the majority of the cases we have found that it is very competitive and it is very doable for the food service directors,” she said.
Garland said more Kentucky school districts and farmers are participating this school year than ever before.
Jefferson County Public Schools purchased 13 percent of food used for its school lunches from Kentucky growers last school year according to JCPS nutrition service center manager Martha Dysart.
“The growing season in 2011 was hot and dry, and consequently, the quantity some of the local items we needed, did not happen.” Dysart said.
This year the district is buying from six farmers in the state and has plans to increase that number and the amount of Kentucky Proud produce by next school year. Technically, buying local includes a 150 mile radius from the given school district, which could include growers from neighboring states.
Under the Restaurant Rewards Program, school cafeterias can be reimbursed up to $12,000 a year for purchasing Kentucky Proud products.
The Farm to School program aims to include every county in Kentucky within the next five years.