COLUMBUS, Ohio – As students head back to school, they may be eating more fresh Ohio foods in their school lunch, breakfast and snack programs. The Ohio State University Extension program in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences will now provide leadership for the statewide Farm to School program, tapping into the strength of state, county, regional and national networks. The program was formerly administered through the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Ohio’s Farm to School program provides youth, pre-K through college, with access to nutritious food while supporting local farmers and communities. This program not only provides young people with fresh, local food, but also helps them understand where their food comes from and how food choices affect their health, environment and community.
“OSU Extension and their partners will be able to provide guidance and help make connections that result in healthy young people, healthy economies and healthy communities,” said OSU Extension Director Keith Smith. “With a presence and partnerships in all 88 Ohio counties, Ohio’s Farm to School program correlates well with our expertise.”
“The Ohio Department of Agriculture created a solid foundation for the program and will continue to work closely with OSU Extension and a growing list of partners and advisors,” said Julie Fox, OSU’s Farm to School Program Director. “A team of Extension professionals is bringing an interdisciplinary approach with research and education in nutrition, youth development, food production and distribution, and local food systems.”
Ohio schools, farmers and youth advocates are making a difference in cafeterias, classrooms and communities around the state with a variety of Farm to School programs. Students taste the difference in the Granville School District where they work with local farmers and other Ohio food companies to serve fresh food in their meal programs.
“We realized our cafeteria didn’t match our wellness policy,” remarked Chuck Dilbone, Director of Business Operations at Granville School District. “We wanted to provide our students with fresh cooked meals with local products. Before this initiative, only 22 percent of our students purchased school meals. We now serve 65 percent of our kids. I firmly believe every school district can do this to some extent.”
“Students are getting excited as they get involved with school and community gardens, hands-on nutrition education, farm tours, classroom visits by farmers and cooking demonstrations with chefs,” said Marie Economos, OSU Extension educator from Trumbull County. “These programs are helping students establish healthy eating habits that will set the foundation for a healthier lifestyle.”
“Local farmers are connecting with schools in several ways,” said Morgan Taggart, OSU Extension educator from Cuyahoga County. “They are selling directly to schools by establishing a relationship with the food service staff, selling through Farmers’ Markets, utilizing the Department of Defense’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program which delivers local food to schools, and selling through a local distributor or a cooperative structure in which farmers and other local food businesses work together to minimize transportation and administration costs.”
October is the first National Farm to School Month, thanks to a resolution passed by congress last November. To celebrate, schools across Ohio and the country will be inviting farmers and chefs to visit their school during the month.
“There are many great Farm to School projects in Ohio,” said Fox. “We look forward to working with agencies, nonprofits, education and industry to expand the benefits of a statewide and national network.”
To learn more about Ohio’s Farm to School program and access resources to explore, plan, develop and evaluate Farm to School programs in your community, visit http://farmtoschool.osu.edu.