A Commitment to Farm to School

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On May 15, BCBSNC Foundation proudly announced a $1.2 million grant to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in support of  the NC Farm to School Program.  This post, authored by Jennifer MacDougall, recently appeared in The Sweet Potato, the blog of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association – The Sweet Potato.

North Carolina is a state known for its agriculture. Apples, strawberries, watermelon, lettuce, sweet potatoes and more-from the mountains to the coast- the quality and variety of produce grown in our state is astounding. Unfortunately, North Carolina is also known as a state with high rates of childhood obesity.  A state where one in three children is obese or at risk of becoming obese, and a state where more than 40 percent of children ages 5-10 and more than 80 percent of high school youth do not eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

One place to bridge this issue is in school and in the school cafeteria. So many memories of school take place in the cafeteria and over a tray of food. With over 800,000 lunches served in NC’s public schools every day, what if those meals could highlight North Carolina’s produce? And what if classroom teachers could help strengthen that connection to the food by teaching children about where it is grown, who grows it, and why it’s good to eat?  That’s the goal of the North Carolina Farm to School program.

In 1997, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) developed a system for North Carolina schools across the state to receive fresh produce grown by local farmers. By buying produce directly from North Carolina farmers, schools know students are getting locally grown produce and the program has opened an additional market for North Carolina farmers; a win for the entire state.

Through a three-year grant, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation has recently invested in the Farm to School program to increase access to healthy food and promote education to make smart choices. The grant provides funding for five new refrigerated tractor-trailers, increasing the distribution of local fruits and vegetables to 35 additional school systems statewide and increasing the number of participating farmers from 75 to 105. Additionally, the grant  supports a three-year Farm to School marketing initiative to teach children about what is being served in their school cafeteria, where it is grown, how to make healthy food choices and the importance of a healthy diet, as well as raise the profile of the Farm to School program among school systems across the state.

All school districts in North Carolina have the ability to be part of the North Carolina Farm to School Program that now includes farm-fresh produce throughout the school year. By making connections between our state’s children and our state’s agriculture, we are growing a healthier future.

To learn more or to get involved, visit www.ncfarmtoschool.com.

by Jennifer MacDougall, Healthy Active Communities Senior Program Officer, BCBSNC Foundation