Leap and VA Cooperative Extension Receive Farm To School Grant To Get Fresh Food To Roanoke City Students

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Maple Avenue Market Farm co-owner Sara Guerre (r.) invited students to learn about local and interesting varieties of produce such as purple corn on the cob that is used for popping, during a National School Lunch Week event at Nottingham Elementary School in Arlington, VA, on Wednesday, October 12, 2011. Farmers from Bigg Riggs Farm in Hampshire County, WV, and Maple Avenue Market Farm in Vienna, VA were very popular with the students. Today's menu included roasted chicken, roasted butternut squash with dried cranberries, farm fresh mixed lettuce salad, turkey wraps, pita wedges, hot muffins, carrots, Asian pears and more. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Roanoke City Celebrates Farm To School Week With Roanoke City Public Schools, Boys & Girls Club, and Imagine Me Mentoring

In July of 2020, the Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP) and Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) in Roanoke City received $48,839 in federal funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a one-year Farm to School planning grant.

With this funding, LEAP and VCE will work closely with the Roanoke City Public School (RCPS) District’s Food and Nutrition Department and distributor SodexoMAGIC to establish the strong relationships and communications that are necessary for successful Farm to School programs.

Over the past decade, the farm to school movement has exploded across the United States, reaching millions of students. From school gardens and farm field trips to local food on cafeteria trays, farm to school practices help children learn about where food comes from and make healthier choices while also creating new markets for local and regional farmers. In 2020, the USDA gave out $12 million to 159 Farm to School grantees, the most it has ever issued. The funded projects are expected to serve more than 7,610 schools and 2.5 million students.

According to the National Farm to School Network, “farm to school enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and early care and education sites.” There are now more than 42,000 schools in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. Territories – or 42% of all schools – participating in Farm to School and benefiting more than 23.6 million children.

The Farm to School planning grant will support a shared vision for future Farm to School initiatives in Roanoke City by building a strong partnership between RCPS, LEAP (food distribution), and VCE (food education). According to Maureen Best with LEAP, “Farm to School is rooted in our community’s future– it provides students with expanded access to fresh, local food, greater agriculture literacy, and fun, hands-on education; develops additional market opportunities for regional farmers; and strengthens the ties between schools, community, farmers, and family.”

This year, RCPS is using National Farm to School Week (October 5-9) to spotlight current and future Farm to School work in Roanoke City. RCPS is committed to healthy kids, fresh food, and strong local economies and has worked with local distributors to source locally and regionally grown food for many years.

COVID-19 has created many challenges for the Roanoke community, schools, and students. In honor of Farm to School Week, LEAP and VCE are taking a moment to celebrate community, food, and students by hosting safe and private educational activities at two learning pods that host RCPS students, the Boys & Girls Club of Southwest Virginia and Imagine Me Mentoring. Doug Pitzer, Imagine Me Mentoring Program Coordinator, stated “our kids won’t be able to take any field trips this year– it will be great to have a fun, on-site field trip and learning activity.”

On October 5th and 8th, LEAP and VCE will provide on-site Farm to School activities where students will taste different local apple varieties and talk with local farmers about food and farming. Every student will receive apples and apple recipes to take home and share with their families.