One of the best ways to connect fresh, locally grown produce from farmers in Southeast Ohio with local kids and families is through the school system. Rural Action’s Farm to Institution (also called Farm to School) program uses grant funding to purchase produce from the Chesterhill Produce Auction and other local outlets. Staff and volunteers then store and process food by cleaning, freezing, or pureeing it at ACEnet’s Food Ventures Center or at ACEnet’s Food and Farm Enterprise Center in Nelsonville. Finally, the prepared produce is delivered to local school districts where cafeteria staff use it to cook and serve nutritious local meals for their students.

On February 10th, staff members from ACEnet and Rural Action had the chance to facilitate a tour and discussion with representatives from Federal Hocking Local Schools, Fort Frye Local Schools, and the Washington County Creating Healthy Communities Coalition. Lynne Genter, the Federal Hocking Farm to School Coordinator, already runs a robust Farm to School initiative involving multiple school gardens and a large network of local farm suppliers. Fort Frye’s Wellness Coordinator Megan Lang is in the early stages of developing a new farm to school program.

The event included a tour of the Nelsonville and Athens ACEnet kitchen facilities by Chris Quolke and Adam Kody respectively, followed by a visit to a Federal Hocking School cafeteria, where Lynne walked us through the success and struggles of their farm to school program. She explained that farm to school programming has allowed them to not only get fresher local food, but to have more control over what they can receive. Locally-grown salad greens last longer, beef can be cheaper, and when a farmer has excess, schools can get better deals by buying out their stock. With a new blast chiller and vacuum sealer, the Federal Hocking farm to school program can now package local food all summer for the coming academic year.

Fort Frye has goals to implement their own farm to school programming, and their staff engaged in a lively conversation regarding funding, regulations, food and equipment sourcing, and potential partners in the area. Megan, along with colleagues Abby Campbell, Denise Gerber, and Stacey Ellem, expressed interest specifically in engaging students in the process and putting as little extra pressure as possible on their kitchen staff. Lynne was able to recommend specific vegetables that were successes (corn cobbettes in the winter) and warn against some less successful experiences (the vacuum sealer comes with a learning curve).

Fort Frye administrators and staff hope a successful Farm to School initiative will instill a passion for food and its origins in their students and that they in turn may take that knowledge home and share it with their parents and communities.

Attendees:
Megan Lang – Fort Frye Wellness Coordinator
Abby Campbell – Fort Frye HSTW Literacy/Careers
Denise Gerber – Fort Frye Local School Food Service Coordinator & Head Cook
Stacy Bolden – Fort Frye Treasurer
Sherry Ellem – Creating Healthy Communities Program Manager
Lynne Genter – Federal Hocking Farm to School Coordinator

Rural Action:
Tom Redfern – Director of Sustainable Agriculture
Molly Sowash – Sustainable Agriculture Manager
Dora Rodriguez – Farm to School VISTA
Jordan Knisley – Food Access Coordinator COMCorps
Michelle Ajamian – Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative Network Coordinator
Eleanor Reagan – Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative VISTA

ACEnet:
Leslie Schaller – Director of Programs
Chris Quolke – Small Business Support Specialist and Trainer
Adam Kody – Food Enterprise Coordinator
Devra Roberts – Food Partners Access Coordinator
Rachel Brunot – Fresh and Healthy Foods VISTA

Community Update by ACEnet Fresh and Healthy Foods VISTA, Rachel Brunot & Food Partners Access Coordinator, Devra Roberts