ARLINGTON, Va. (11/9/10) — With the second week in November designated as Virginia Farm to School Week by the Virginia General Assembly, local schools have planned cafeteria displays and additional activities for the week of November 8-12, 2010. In Northern Virginia, Alexandria City Public Schools’ George Mason Elementary School is taking a lead in the celebration of the commonwealth’s second Farm to School Week with some innovative programs.
On Wednesday, students at George Mason Elementary will enjoy an apple tasting with apples donated by local grocery chain My Organic Market, and the second-graders will enjoy a “chef’s tasting” with a chef from Old Town Alexandria’s Restaurant Eve. Thursday night is restaurant night at Cameron Station’s Food Matters, where a portion of the evening’s proceeds will go back to the school.
Katherine Sumner, parent of two boys at George Mason Elementary and Board Certified Health Counselor, initiated and formed the school’s Farm to School Committee after being impressed by DC Farm to School Network efforts. Sumner also attended a farm-to-school training seminar in Rappahannock County, where she was inspired by local efforts. “Why not Alexandria?” Sumner asked herself.
When she inquired about the plans for Farm to School Week in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS), Sumner was pleased to learn from Director of Food Services Dr. Becky Domokos-Bays that local produce would be served, but she hoped for more.
“I really wanted to use Farm to School Week to raise awareness, educate the teachers, parents, and children on the importance of local fresh food, and get our community involved. I have always been a big believer in education as it is the only way to open minds and open hearts to a new way of feeding our children,” Sumner said.
Domokos-Bays is excited about the programs planned for this week at George Mason. “We’re still in our infancy, so I’m relying on parents to help me out with these efforts,” she said, adding that she hopes for more parental involvement at more schools next year.
From July through the end of October this year, 8 percent of the produce purchased by ACPS was locally-produced. This week, the schools are serving locallly-grown cauliflower, apples, and squash; suppliers include E.A. Parker & Sons and Crown Orchard. The serving lines in cafeterias will list the names of the farms and how long they’ve been in business.
“The desire is there,” she said, “it’s the infrastructure and budget we have to get through,” explaining that local cauliflower costs $3 more per case than cauliflower shipped from afar and that local apples cost more too.
“The small farmer loses money to go through a distributor,” she explained, but sometimes the amount of produce that the school system needs is not sufficient to make it cost-effective for the farmer to make the effort to do a direct delivery, either. A past Harrisonburg supplier of hydroponic Bibb lettuce no longer supplies ACPS because it just wasn’t worth his driving time and expense.
Additionally, ACPS is required to buy produce only from producers growers who are certified through the Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) program, which might be too cost-prohibitive for smaller growers to participate in.
Nearby Arlington County Public Schools (APS) is also serving local apples and cauliflower in all its elementary schools as well as Asian pears, greens and lettuce. Secondary schools will serve roasted butternut squash, sugar snap peas, and cauliflower.
APS is also holding a decorating contest. According to APS Food Services Director Amy Maclosky, the staffs of the school cafeterias were “charged with decorating their serving lines and fresh fruit cold cases like farmers markets.” Food services staff will judge the displays, with a winner to be selected on Wednesday.
In Alexandria, Sumner hopes that all ACPS schools can be involved next year through the efforts of a district-wide farm to school committee. Having recently launched a new business, Nourish Schools, to help schools analyze how they are doing on a number of health and sustainability factors, Sumner wants “farm to school” efforts to take off in Alexandria. She envisions a district-wide “farm to school” committee with participation throughout the city schools next November.
Sumner offered, “I am hopeful our first ‘Farm to School’ week at George Mason Elementary will be a memorable experience for the kids and will inspire others in our community to get involved in the “food revolution” to help make changes so we can give all our children the greatest gift of all - a healthy start!”
The national Farm to School website is http://www.farmtoschool.org/
Jessica Claire Haney is a freelance writer, editor and tutor. Her writing has appeared in parenting publications and poetry journals. A former high school English teacher, Jessica is mother to a four-year-old son and a new baby girl. She is passionate about holistic health and well-being and is a leader of a chapter of Holistic Moms Network.
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