Harvest Season and Homegrown School Lunch Week
Published in the September 29, 2018, edition of Lancaster Farming
As we move into October, farmers throughout the region are wrapping up peak growing season and preparing for harvest. As I am sure you are aware, this has not been an easy summer on the farm. Dramatic shifts from wet weather to high heats and back to wet weather have made for an exceptionally difficult growing season. This is a fact that I am well aware of as Maryland’s Secretary of Agriculture, and have experienced first-hand as a fresh market produce farmer. I think we can all agree that it will feel good to get this season behind us and look forward to more manageable conditions in the future.
As we move into harvest season, our department has partnered with the State Highway Administration and Maryland Farm Bureau to educate drivers to expect farm equipment on rural routes, and to approach these vehicles with caution. This will include the use of electronic message signs positioned along roads throughout the state in addition to public outreach.
Harvest season is a busy time for those of us farm community. However, I encourage you all to take a moment to reflect and celebrate all of the hard work we do each and every day to provide food, fuel and fiber for people throughout the region and beyond.
One of the ways we celebrate this in Maryland is with the annual Homegrown School Lunch Week. This year, school systems across the state celebrated by featuring various locally produced ingredients in their cafeteria lunches for the week of September 24-28. I was lucky enough to visit a few of those events.
On September 20, I visited Eldersburg Elementary School in Carroll County for the official Homegrown School Lunch Week kickoff event. Students led federal, state and local officials on a tour of activities that included a presentation on dairy farming; FFA high school student-run stations including making butter in a jar, and tasting apples from Baugher’s Orchards; and the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation’s “Maryland Ag Products” mobile science lab.
After the tour, we joined students in the school cafeteria to enjoy a lunch that featured local products. The menu included roasted potatoes from Wilke’s Family Farms in Hampstead; fresh melons, peppers and tomatoes from Deep Run Farms in Hampstead; apples, plums and peaches from Baugher’s Orchards in Westminster; cucumbers from Miller Farms in Clinton; and local milk from Dairy Maid Dairy in Frederick.
To cap-off the weeklong celebration, Caroline County Public Schools hosted a “Maryland Farm to Tray” event at Federalsburg Elementary School on September 28. Culinary students provided Maryland vegetable crab soup with crabmeat donated by J.M. Clayton Seafood Company in Cambridge. Caroline County also became the first school system in the state to add blue catfish to its menu with the Caroline Blue Catfish Taco. This dish was created by the county’s culinary students and showcased at the 2018 Governor’s Buy Local Cookout. The event also featured an oyster shucking and spat demo by Phillips Wharf Center.
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 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 percent purchase vegetables, 100 percent purchase Maryland fruits, 59 percent milk and 22 percent meat or poultry. Moreover, 52 percent of those schools indicated an interest in increasing local food purchases in the future.
For more information about Homegrown School Lunch Week and 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.