October is National Farm-to-School Month, recognizing the efforts and value of a critical program for students nationwide. Virginia dedicates a week in October to celebrating the Farm-to-School program. During this week, students, farmers, growers, and distributors come together, to learn and explore the ongoing initiatives of the program. The Farm-to-School program provides a wealth of education about fresh produce, nutrition education, food and agricultural literacy, school gardens, and more, with students of all ages.

In 2007, Virginia was one of the first states to establish a Farm-to-School task force. It has only continued to grow since then, with hundreds of local schools, farms, and distribution centers taking part. Virginia is dedicated to continuing to grow the program. According to the 2015 USDA Farm-to-School Census, 1,319 schools participated in the program, supporting 886,775 students.

Fast Facts about Virginia’s Participation in the Farm-to-School Program in 2015:
– 92% of local fresh produce is being served during lunch
– 154 schools are participating in growing a school garden
– 65% of school districts are engaging preschool children
– 23% of school districts are using local foods in summer meals

In 2015, Loudoun County received the “One in a Melon” award for standing out as a participating school district in Virginia. In 2016, they were provided with a Farm-to-School planning grant. They have used the grant funds to grow their nutrition education, providing local foods to students, utilizing the cafeteria for sampling events, supporting field trips to local
farms, and connecting farmers with students. Some of their ongoing efforts for students include:

– Taste it Thursday: One Thursday a month for elementary students, seasonal produce is sampled in the cafeteria. A single fruit or vegetable is featured with taste testing opportunities.
– Fear Factor Friday: One Friday a month, seasonal produce is brought to middle and high school students to sample. A single fruit or vegetable is featured with taste testing opportunities.
– Field Trips: Teachers and parents are encouraged to participate in field trips to local Loudoun county farms, or a trip to Claude Moore Park. Students engage in sampling local produce, learning about sustainable farm practices, and farm-to-table efforts.
– School Gardens: Currently there are 52 active school gardens. Garden tool kits along with free garden supplies are offered to teachers for their classroom instruction. Hydroponic and herb garden towers are new additions to a handful of classrooms for the 2018-2019 year.

The Fairfax County Public School district was named as a recipient of a grant from the USDA in 2019, to create a pilot Farm-to-School strategic plan. A five-year plan is in the works to expand the reach of nutrition education and local produce being offered to students. More specifically, a major 5-year goal is to have salad bars in every elementary school.

Loudoun and Fairfax Counties are just two of the many school districts in Virginia participating in the Farm-to-School Program. For more information check out the following resources:

Virginia Farm-to-School

USDA Farm-to-School Census

National Farm-to-School Network

Emily Solis is a Dietetic Intern with the Virginia Tech – Northern Virginia site. She enjoys running, gardening, and baking pies on Sundays.