In recent years, the farm-to-table concept has become a mainstay in restaurants across the U.S. and even internationally. At the same time, the public’s intrigue with the concept (not to mention support from both farmers and customers) has sparked an additional movement: farm to school.
Introduced and supported by the USDA, New Jersey’s Farm to School program aims to bring Jersey Fresh produce directly from New Jersey farmers to students’ plates. The program promotes food sourcing, hands-on educational activities, and the integration of food-related education into schools’ standard curriculum.
“Participation in the program can be as simple as a school emphasizing Jersey Fresh produce, establishing a school garden or instituting food education programs,” said Rose Tricario, SNS, Director of the Division of Food and Nutrition in the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. These programs are not monitored or required, but are highly encouraged and supported through USDA grants, research, toolkits, and webinars.
Over the last few years, the state’s efforts in the Farm to School Program have grown tremendously, and the last week of every September is Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week throughout New Jersey. This initiative, established by Governor Christie in 2011, highlights and promotes New Jersey agriculture and the importance of bringing that produce to children. Past Farm to School Week activities include recipe contests in Jersey City, school garden awards in Margate, and apple tastings in Plainsboro.
In August 2014, five bills were signed into law promoting the New Jersey Farm to School Program, helping to ensure that fresh fruits and vegetables are provided for students at meals through fundraising, tax rebates, and an award system. The bills also encourage the collaboration and communication between farmers and schools.
Thanks to the state’s Farm to School efforts, more schools throughout the Garden State have been able to procure local produce straight from the farmer, either directly or indirectly through the Fresh program and the NJ Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program both funded by the USDA.
In an effort to help school food service professionals prepare for the increased amount of Jersey Fresh produce, the USDA also provides professional development. Food service professionals can learn new and creative ways to prepare the produce for students through continuing education on new cooking techniques.
“We’re changing the culture by helping kids make healthy choices,” said Tricario. “Bottom line.”
Click here for more information about New Jersey’s Farm to School Program.