On March 7, 2014, students at J.C. Nalle Elementary School sampled three different kinds of spinach. After the taste test, they cast their vote to decide which type they like best. The winner? Spinach salad! (Photo courtesy of D.C. Central Kitchen)
It’s not every day that I get the opportunity to hang out with a group of cool elementary school students. Which is why I was so excited for the chance to spend a few hours at J.C. Nalle Elementary School in Southeast Washington, D.C. You see, it was “Fresh Feature Friday” and D.C. Central Kitchen was coordinating a taste test to see which type of spinach the students like best. “Fresh Feature Friday” is their way of getting kids to try healthy new foods while improving student nutrition and decreasing school food waste.
D.C. Central kitchen manages the school meals program at J.C. Nalle and has been involved with serving healthy school meals for years. In fact, in 2013, the USDA Farm to School Program awarded funds to D.C. Central Kitchen to develop a year round farm to school program. The funds helped purchase school kitchen equipment to process and serve local foods, train staff to prepare school meals using local foods, and develop key partnerships with D.C. Public Schools, the D.C. Farm to School Network, and several regional farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Read more »
FarmTek greenhouse manager Sam Schroyer describes how basil is raised hydroponically to Deputy Under Secretary O’Brien and John Whitaker (left), USDA Farm Service Agency Executive Director in Iowa.
All across the country local and regional food systems provide a wealth of opportunities for rural residents. They provide opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and producers to meet growing customer demand for local foods. Local food entrepreneurs are starting to start small businesses like food processing, distribution and retail markets.
Local and regional food systems are also building stronger connections between urban and rural communities. Eastern Iowa is case in point. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s second biggest city, the NewBo City Market features the region’s local food offerings. Secretary Vilsack was on hand in the fall of 2012 to open the 18,000 square foot market, local food distribution center, and culinary training facility. Read more »
This week, USDA released preliminary data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture that provides a snapshot of a rural America that remains stable in the face of difficult economic times. While the data do not paint a perfect picture, they do tell a story of the unlimited potential and growing opportunity in modern rural America.
Census data indicate that the loss of farmland has slowed significantly since 2007, which means that while a total of 72 million acres of farmland have been lost since the 1982 census, we have begun to stem the tide. New tools in the 2014 Farm Bill should help to further slow and perhaps even reverse this trend in some areas of the country.
The results reinforce what we have known for many years: the farm population is aging. While that is a concern, the data also show that the number of young farmers increased slightly and the number of minority farm and ranch principal operators increased dramatically, reflecting the changing face of America as a whole. We are hopeful that USDA policies that attract and retain the next generation of talent into rural America will help to continue this trend. Read more »
Introducing students to healthy foods early on through farm to school programs is one way to reduce the amount of fruits and vegetables wasted in schools.
October was National Farm to School Month and at FNS we ended on a high note. We released our very first nationwide assessment of farm to school activities and there was a lot of good news to be shared. The Farm to School Census showed that adoption of farm to school activities is trending up; many schools that do not currently have farm to school programs are planning to start them, and millions of children are being exposed to healthy foods and learning about where food comes from. In fact, in school year 2011-2012, schools invested over $350 Million in locally produced, healthy food. This adds up to major benefits for American nutrition and local economies.
But the benefits don’t stop there. In addition to creating new market opportunities for farmers and producers across the country, farm to school programs are a way to get students familiar with healthy foods so that they don’t throw those items away when they end up on their cafeteria tray. Read more »