Kids are headed back to school and so are county Extension agents.
As schools continue to teach kids where their food comes from and bring local and regional products into the school cafeteria, one group they may want to partner with on their farm to school activities is their local or regional Cooperative Extension office. Cooperative Extension Systems are administered by each state’s Land-Grant University System. Programs are available in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. and most states have local or regional Extension offices that are staffed by one or more experts, often referred to as Extension agents or Extension educators.
Nationally, more and more Cooperative Extension Systems are devoting key resources to supporting farm to school activities. Of the 68 fiscal year 2013 USDA Farm to School Grants distributed, 25 percent included partners from Cooperative Extension. State Extension Systems such as Ohio, Minnesota, and Illinois have already dedicated resources and personnel to leading their states farm to school programs. And at the upcoming national Extension conference, farm to school and local foods are sure to be a major themes discussed.
Before joining the USDA, I examined how Cooperative Extension professionals are supporting farm to school programs and activities. Through a survey of eight state Extension Systems, results show that on average, Extension professionals are supporting at least one farm to school-related activity and that respondents were interested in supporting farm to school much more than they currently are. The number one farm to school activity that respondents were involved in was school or community gardening programs. Extension professionals were also found to be supporting farm to school initiatives by helping producers market and sell their products to schools, coordinating farm-based field trips and tours for students, and helping host producers at schools for presentations about local foods and agriculture.
Many of the Extension professionals that completed the survey stated that they felt Cooperative Extension should play an increased role in local and regional farm to school programs but that they need additional training and encouragement to get more involved. This finding is one of the reasons why the USDA Farm to School Program is launching a webinar series focused on helping Extension professionals become more knowledgeable about ways they can support farm to school. Through this webinar series, we also hope to show how other farm to school groups can successfully partner with Cooperative Extension. With schools back in session, now is a perfect time to reach out to local or regional Extension offices and ask that they get involved with farm to school.
Editors Note: To learn more about upcoming webinars, sign-up for the Farm to School E-letter.