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Editorial: Farm to School effort can yield healthier meals, aid economy

May. 21, 2013 @ 12:35 AM

The food served to students has received a lot of attention in Cabell County Schools over the past few years.

Putting the school system's food service in the spotlight initially was British chef Jamie Oliver's unscripted television show, "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution," which was filmed in Huntington in 2009 and aired the next spring on national television. Cabell County Schools, featured in that series, responded with efforts to make school lunches more healthy, focusing on more freshly made foods.

Now, the system is working to put more emphasis on fresh foods by taking steps to get more area farmers involved in selling their crops for school lunches and breakfasts. The "Farm to School" program already has made some headway, but expanding it further will require overcoming some challenges.

In the past two years, Cabell's Farm to School initiative mostly has consisted of student initiatives, with Future Farmers of American and 4-H clubs at Cabell Midland High School growing corn and potatoes and a group of students selling their farm-produced eggs. The program also has stepped somewhat beyond just student-driven efforts by buying about $10,000 worth of produce directly from farmers in other counties.

Now, the program is trying to generate interest from farmers in Cabell County, a logical step that could prove to be the most beneficial -- if the interest can be sparked among local farmers and the school system and potential farm suppliers can overcome various logistical issues.

Aspects acknowledged by state officials who are advocating for more farm to school activity are packaging the produce properly and figuring out ways for it to be delivered in a timely and cost-efficient manner.

Another is coordinating with farmers about the crops they grow so that a diversified set of foods can meet the schools' needs. There also is the issue of whether farmers can supply foods in the quantities demanded by a school system with 12,000 students.

Then there is a matter of the calendar. As of now, schools are not in session for much of the growing season when food crops are most plentiful. That clearly can cause complications in meeting the schools' demands during the course of a school year, plus putting the onus on farmers to find other buyers when school is not in session.

To find answers for some of the issues -- such as packaging and delivery -- Cabell County Schools is hoping to receive a $100,000 grant that could be used in part to set up a central receiving and distribution point.

All those hurdles don't mean the Farm to School initiative can't succeed, although it does mean significant progress will likely take some time. But the benefits of moving forward are clear. Rhonda McCoy, director of Food Services for Cabell County Schools, spelled them out clearly in an interview last week: Buying produce from local farmers helps the economy and helps put fresh food on the table for students. Both outcomes are welcome.

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