As winter drags along, and most produce bears labels from Chile and Mexico, the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Farm to School program is sending fresh, local fruit and vegetables to school districts across the state, including Ashe County.
For most people old enough to have children in high school, the words “school lunch” call to mind memories of canned fruit, frozen vegetables, instant potatoes and wilted salad.
Since 1997, the Farm to School program has provided seasonal produce to N.C. students direct from N.C. farms, according to Ted Fogleman, assistant director of the NCDOA&CS Food Distribution Division. Ashe County’s is one of 117 school districts participating in the program statewide.
Schools are provided 23 different menus over 23 weeks, he said, which include: watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, apples, peaches, sweet corn, cucumbers, kale, broccoli crowns, sweet potatoes, green cabbage, collard greens, romaine lettuce,sweet potatoes, strawberries, yellow squash, zucchini and blueberries.
“Everything is local, from Manteo to Murphy,” said Fogleman. All of the program’s apples, tomatoes and peaches come from the western part of the state.
Ashe County Schools Coordinator of Child Nutrition Martha Turner said deliveries from Farm the to School program come about once a week. Her department was budgeted $14,000 this school year to purchase through the program, which offers a variety of items not available through regular vendors, she said.
This week’s delivery will include star fruit and tricolor cauliflower — a favorite at the high school — which comes in purple, yellow and lime-green. Soon, kumquats will be on the menu.
“The students do a really good job going for the fresh produce,” Turner said.
While students enjoy the benefits of fresh local foods, the program also provides N.C. farmers a ready market for their harvests. For the 2011-12 school year, 1,003,921 students in 1599 schools were served 1,343,275 pounds of N.C. produce, totalling $672,583 in sales, according the the program’s Website.
Brenda Faw, who heads the cafeteria at Ashe County High School, has worked in nutrition services for almost 30 years, and has always run a salad bar. But the Farm to School program has made it easier to provide more and better seasonal produce for the 650-700 student lunches served at ACHS each school day, she said.
“They like the vegetable at the high school,” said Faw, “but the little ones are cautious about trying new things.”
Not all produce is purchased through the program, Turner said. Much of it comes through U.S. Foods, and Child Nutrition tries to buy as fresh and local as possible.
“Any produce you see in the schools is going to be American,” Faw said. “We don’t get any produce from overseas.”
For more information on the Farm to School program, go to: http://www.ncfarmtoschool.com/