Farm to School initiative provides healthier choices
The Forrest City School District is joining schools nationwide in participating in the national Farm to School program which provides healthier alternatives for students and teachers while also providing benefits to local farmers.
According to FCSD Supervisor of Child Nutrition Evelyn Rayford, the school district is working with two local entities, the East Arkansas Enterprise Community and Seven Harvest, Inc., to provide fresh fruits and vegetables with a homegrown flair.
“Right now we’re still in the trial stage just to see how this is going to work out, but so far it has been nice. We’re working with the EAEC and Seven Harvest on things like fresh fruits and vegetable mix, and it has been a blessing. We got watermelons from the EAEC earlier this year. They were locally grown and much better than what we had been getting. Our students and staff really enjoyed them and commented on how good they were, and there was also a cost savings benefit to the school district,” said Rayford.
Rayford said the district is also working with the EAEC on other items such as greens and purple hull peas.
“We’re also looking at getting fresh sweet potatoes from them, and we’ve already got those on our menu for our Thanksgiving meals,” she said.
Another added benefit from the program is the shelf life of produce the school district receives.
“One of the biggest benefits of the program we hope will come from the fact that the produce we’ll get will be fresher which will give us a longer shelf life. Instead of it getting harvested one day and shipped to us, which can take a very long time, it will be harvested right here in St. Francis County and to us within a day or two which will then give us more time to work with fresher food,” said Rayford.
Dr. Barry Colley, co-founder of Seven Harvest, who was making a delivery of salad mix at Lincoln Middle Academy of Excellence and Forrest City High School this morning, said there are several benefits to the program.
“There is an effort under way to bring back the small farmers and programs like this are one of those ways. The benefits to the school district that we can provide is that we’re getting them fresh produce which is organically grown and has no chemicals. The salad mix that we just delivered is a wonderful source of Vitamin C and Vitamin E so it has a lot more nutritional value than your standard iceberg lettuce. We’re also willing to work with different things to provide something that the kids will like because the fresher produce will also assist them with learning,” said Colley.
Colley said one of the drawbacks in the program is finding a financial harmony between the small producer and the school district.
“That is the area that needs the most work right now. This is a good program, but you have school districts who must stay within their budget constraints, and you have small producers who want to provide the produce and take advantage of the opportunity but must still make a profit,” said Colley.
Colley said Seven Harvest is working with the district this year on a test basis and he hopes to become a regular district vendor for next school year.
According to Rayford, the biggest benefit of the program may come from simply knowing where the food is coming from.
“In the past, we had to order our produce and hope that it was coming from some place clean and sanitary. Working with local producers all we have to do is get in our vehicles and go out there. We can see how the operation is working and where the produce is coming from. Dr. Colley has even invited us to come out and work with his people hands on to see what the process is to harvest the greens and put the salad mix together and go through the entire process, and that is great,” said Rayford.
In 2010, Congress designated October as National Farm to School Month. According to a press release, the Farm to School initiative has more than 2,300 programs nationwide.