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Farm to School efforts taking root

Nov. 18, 2012 @ 12:13 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Three Cabell Midland High School students who are providing fresh eggs to schools in Cabell and Lincoln counties serve as examples for the state's Farm to School initiative.

Juniors Jonathan Black and Chelsea Smith and sophomore Zachary Call all have started businesses this year thanks to Cabell County's willingness to incorporate farm fresh foods in its meals. Rhonda McCoy, the food service director for Cabell County Schools, said the eggs are used in a number of recipes and for hard-boiled eggs served occasionally for breakfast.

"What we hope for is the kids to have an interest in farm to school and make it into a business," McCoy said Friday at a Farm to School AmeriCorps meeting at Delegate Carol Miller's buffalo farm near Milton. "And these kids are showing they can do it."

Black and Call spoke during the afternoon portion of the day-long meeting, which was part of a training for AmeriCorps members who are working with Farm to School programs in various counties. The AmeriCorps members will serve as liaisons between farmers and school systems.

All three students have grown up on farms and pitched in with the duties that go with it. They also have participated in the annual Future Farmers of America and 4-H Ham, Bacon and Egg sales, so they understand the work it takes to produce. But they said going into business themselves has allowed them to see the other, more difficult, side of farming.

"You definitely learn the business aspect of life," Black said. "I thought I knew the value of a dollar before, but I really do now."

They have to keep detailed records of what they sell and to whom, keep up with business and farming licensing and also spend hundreds of dollars monthly on feed. And they must balance it all with schoolwork.

Yet, all said the experience thus far has affirmed they want to continue farming as they enter their adult lives.

"This experience made me want to go into the agriculture business," Smith said. "Because I can make a difference."

Cabell's use of fresh eggs follows two years of growing crops on farmland in Milton donated by a local resident. That has included sweet potatoes and corn. It's also why Cabell County is seen as a model throughout the state.

Leah Smith is an AmeriCorps member who works with the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition and attended Friday's event, which included a farm fresh lunch made by Cabell County School's AmeriCorps member Amy Roberts. Smith said she was inspired by what she saw.

"We know these things are going on, and we can tell stories like this in our newsletter," Smith said. "People (statewide) are saying (Farm to School) is the best thing they've seen in farming in 40 years."

April Hamilton, a mother of two, is serving as an AmeriCorps worker in Kanawha County and has been pushing for healthier meals in schools for years. When she saw the Farm to School opportunity, she said it was a perfect fit. She also said seeing how well Farm to School is working in Cabell County will help her as she works to build relationships in her county.

"Learning from an experienced program is very inspiring," Hamilton said. "It's a reminder that you have to be patient and persistent. It's for the kids."

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