Welcome to our Farm to Student blog series! Here, we will go more in-depth about the role that Project GROWS plays in helping to coordinate the procurement of local produce by our local school districts and the impact of our Harvest of the Month vegetable.

Introducing Local Food to Schools Through the Harvest of the Month Program

For the past 2 years, our Harvest of the Month cafeteria tastings have provided the opportunity for K-12 students in Staunton City Schools and Waynesboro Public Schools to be introduced to local vegetables that they aren’t familiar with, or ones that aren’t usually served at schools. We have seen these introductions of new produce generate a lot of excitement from the students, which then gives schools more confidence to then purchase this new vegetable to be served on the lunch line. The increased interest from students helps give momentum to the relationships between schools and local farmers, and their produce. Seeing the positive impact that fresh vegetables have on students’ outlook on food, incentivizes schools to buy from, and support, local farmers and producers, rather than buying from large corporations.

Facilitating Local Food Procurement from Schools to Farms

With our current connections to farmers in the area through our farmers markets we are opening up communications with our local farmers and the schools. Many of our farmers are looking to regularly sell to the school, and the Harvest of the Month program is a great starting point for some of our smaller scale farmers! Since Harvest of the Month provides such a small sample size, the school can order smaller quantities from smaller scale farmers. This allows for farmers to start building a relationship with the schools and eventually work up to more regular sales. Once relationships are established between the farmer and the school it will be easy to include them in planning for future Harvest of Month tastings and they can start planning their crops based on what the schools are looking for, and ultimately grow and sell more to the schools long term.

Why Local Food?

Not only is local food procurement more sustainable for schools and communities, but the increased quality of the food and nutritional benefits that go along with local produce is quite rewarding. When produce is procured from local farmers, the travel time from farm to school is usually around a day or less. This ensures that the food is at its most nutrient dense, as well as being much fresher than if it came in bulk from corporations. We are constantly seeing the beneficial relationship between students and fresh, local produce. The comprehensive understanding of the impact that fresh food can have, goes a long way (in youth and adults alike).

Continuing the Harvest of the Month Tastings During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During a typical tasting, our staff greets each table of students at all of the cafeterias across Staunton City Schools and Waynesboro Public Schools and offers each student a sample of a new vegetable each month. However, because of COVID-19, we are not able to have physical interactions with students in the lunch room! Even though we can’t be there in person, it is still so important that children have the opportunity to taste and discover these new vegetables. This fall, we are prepping thousands of samples of each month’s featured vegetable, which both schools districts are including in their school meal curbside pickups! The samples are accompanied with our Harvest of the Month video, so that students have the opportunity to taste the HOM vegetable while learning about how it was harvested and where it was grown.

Bringing Vegetables from Farm to Student in October

During the month of October, our harvest of dark leafy greens (a mixture of kale, collards, Swiss chard, and spinach) was sourced from us at
Project GROWS and JMD Farms. JMD is located in Staunton, VA and has been servicing the community for over 30 years! This delicious produce was prepped by Project GROWS staff into samples that were delivered to hundreds of families, accompanied by our
Super Greens video.