Maryland Celebrates 10th Annual Homegrown School Lunch Week
Secretary Joe Bartenfelder
Published in the September 30, 2017
Fall harvest is well underway in Maryland, and we are wrapping up the peak summer season of produce. Because we continue to see strong consumer demand for local food products, it’s the perfect time to take a moment and recognize the success of Maryland’s Farm to School program and the 10th annual Homegrown School Lunch Week (September 25-29, 2017). This week I had the pleasure of joining students and teachers at Crellin Elementary School in Garrett County to kick off the statewide celebration.
Homegrown School Lunch Week encourages school districts to provide locally grown products in at least one school meal every day for a week and continue year-round. Maryland was the first state in the nation to have every public school system participate in Homegrown School Lunch Week. And this year 60 farmers participated in the program.
The larger Farm to School program was signed into law in 2008 as a new program within the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Through this program, we work with school districts throughout the year to find ways to bring fresh products from local farmers into school cafeterias. “Farm to School” also strives to provide students with hands-on learning activities such as farm visits, producers visiting schools, school gardening, and culinary classes; and to integrate food-related education into the standards-based classroom curriculum.
Our goal is to see even more local, fresh food in school lunches, not only to improve childhood health but also to help them learn about the importance of our farms to our environment and daily lives. We are excited to see schools increasing their local sourcing of meat, cheese and seafood in their school meals. Homegrown School Lunch week not only provides effective learning activities, it can be an economic opportunity for Maryland farmers and it’s fun for students and other participants.
In Maryland, there are more than 2 million acres in farmland and more than 12,000 farms. More than 70 million lunches and 24 million breakfasts are served in Maryland schools annually. Maryland Farm to School is not the federally funded Childhood Nutrition Programs, but locally sourced Maryland foods can be a part of the Breakfast, School Lunch, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, Summer Meals, Maryland Meals for Achievement, etc.
Maryland schools spent $18 million on local food served in schools, according to a recent USDA Farm to School Census. Of those schools that purchase local foods, 96% purchase vegetables, 100% purchase Maryland fruits, 59 % milk and 22% meat or poultry. Moreover, 52% of those schools indicated an interest in increasing local food purchases in the future.
At the Homegrown School Lunch Week event at Crellin Elementary, I was joined by USDA Food Nutrition Services Mid-Atlantic Regional Office Special Nutrition Programs Director Roberta Hodsdon, Garrett County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Baker, and Principal Dr. Dana McCauley. We spoke with about 150 students about the connection between farms and food to enhance student understanding of where their food comes from, how it is produced, and the benefits of a healthy diet. We encouraged all of them to consider careers in agriculture. Students and teachers from each grade highlighted for us their role at the school, their agricultural studies and how it ties back to the state mandate. The students led guests on a tour of the school’s “Sunshine Farm,” where they experience hands-on work with crops and livestock in their barns, orchard, garden and greenhouse. Students also had the opportunity to explore the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation’s “Maryland Ag Products” mobile science lab.
After the tour and brief presentations from federal, state and local officials, the invited guests joined students in the school cafeteria to enjoy a lunch that featured local products. The menu included hamburgers from a cow raised by Kane Edwards, 4th grader at Crellin Elementary, purchased at the Garrett County Fair and donated to Crellin by Railey Mountain Vacation Rentals. The Butcher Block in Oakland processed the meat, which was also supplied to other Garrett County schools. Cherry tomatoes from Garrett Growers were also served.
Garrett County Board of Education Food & Nutrition Services Program Manager Scott Germain said “We have worked hard over the past several years to increase our farm to school week from one item to eight items on our menu. Some of those items have found their way onto our menus at other times throughout the year. It is great to work with the local suppliers. The students really enjoy all of the items.”
Each county is unique in how it offers Homegrown School Lunch. This year, we saw schools offering a wide range of local products, from apples, peaches, tomatoes, watermelon and green beans to local cheeses, meats and even seafood. Many school districts have planned various activities to celebrate 2017 Homegrown School Lunch Week. In Caroline County, Lockerman Middle School students will enjoy local blue catfish donated by Congressional Seafood and oysters donated by Madhouse Oysters, and pork sourced from the school’s agricultural class and had it butchered, and the culinary arts students will prepare pork recipes for the taste testing. In Southern Maryland, Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s counties purchased hamburgers, hot dogs, spicy hot dogs and cheese burgers from Hoffman Meats in Hagerstown.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School program was one of 65 projects across 42 states and Puerto Rico to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School Grant Program. The $97,662 grant will engage all of Maryland’s 24 school systems to expand the amount of locally-grown foods procured in the Summer Meals program and increase enrichment programming activities. Statewide activities will include a local food market feasibility study of supply chain partners in Summer Meals, Harvest of the Month summer campaign, technical assistance training, a rural culinary school vegetable processing pilot, and agriculture and nutrition-based activities with a focus on farmers markets and on-site gardens.
For more information about Maryland’s Farm to School program, including educational materials, menus, places to find local products, brief video soundbook with photos and interviews, plus much more for parents, teachers, and food service staff, visit: www.marylandfarmtoschool.org.