Children at the Fort Osage School District are eating local, fresh produce as a part of the new Farm to Fort Program. October is National Farm to School Month.Through the Farm to School initiatives, the inspiration behind Farm to Fort, children are learning healthy habits across the country. The goal of Farm to School is to get more locally grown products into school cafeterias, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Whether the program is large or small, each program is important, and supports the health of students and farmers. Research by the National Farm to School Network shows that Farm to School programs result in:
- Students consuming more fruits and vegetables, and having greater knowledge of both agriculture and healthy eating.
- School food service operations increasing both the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables served, and increasing their revenues from adult and student participation in school meal programs.
- Farmers diversifying their markets, securing contracts for their products and establishing grower collaboratives and cooperatives.
Plans for the program began last summer. Inspiration grew from a Farm to School bus tour, which was attended by a group of faculty members. “It just kind of piqued our interest to bring local produce to our school,” Stacie Waller, Food Service Director, said. A committee of about 13 members included school personnel, individuals from the board of education, and partners from both the MU Extension office and Culinary Art Institute. Beginning last spring, the District also began to work with local producers.
This summer the District brought local, fresh produce into the schools for their summer feed program. The students are now eating fresh, locally grown watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers, and red and green peppers in their school lunches, provided by Nathan and Erin Moyer with Moyer Farms. “It helps the local economy, which is very important to the District,” Waller said.
With this new program, the students are involved with the food that is served in their cafeteria. Waller says Elm Grove Elementary is the “pioneer school” for the program. The school has an active garden club led by Sarah Green, a teacher at the school. Students are very involved in the garden, and pull the produce that is later served in their lunches. Both Principal Pam Fore and Manager Mandy Vasselle are advocates of fresh produce in schools. In the spring of last year, the school sponsored a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Night at Elm Grove. That night children sampled fresh fruits and vegetables. “They tried stuff that I honestly don’t think I have tried. It was just fun. They were really excited to see their lettuce, coming out of their own garden, as part of the salad for that day,” Waller said.
Students from the agriculture and culinary departments at the District’s Careers & Technology Center also play vital roles in the program. The Center has a large agriculture department, with a greenhouse on site. Students with both departments received hands-on lessons on the process of growing produce.
There are big goals and plans for the program. “I am hoping it grows, down the line, where we could build an additional greenhouse somewhere. We could become even more self-sustaining,” Waller said. The District also wants to expand educational and vocational opportunities, as well as provide field trips through the program. The Careers & Technology Center hosts culinary arts students from Grain Valley, Oak Grove, and Blue Springs school districts. They also have their sights set on expanding community involvement. “My hope is to be able to reach out, and have several local farmers bringing us products,” Waller said.
Fort Osage introduced the Farm to Fort program to parents and community members at Elm Grove Elementary on October 1, 2018. Students, teachers and faculty all took a bite at the same time for the Great Apple Crunch Challenge. Stephanie Smith, Director of Public Relations, challenges other buildings and teachers to come up with fun ways to engage students in both the Farm to Fort program, and National Farm to School Month.