A Local Partnership in School Nutrition Feeds Students Today and the Community in the Future.

by | Feb 2024

THE SCHOOL lunches of our childhood memories vary greatly depending on the era in which you pulled up a seat at the cafeteria table. The most mature readers likely ate at home. When the Great Depression rolled in, the National School Lunch Program appeared, ensuring hungry students got a hot meal. World War II brought some twists as folks had to get creative with rationed foods. Fast forward to the ’50s, and suddenly, TV dinners started influencing what landed on lunch trays. 

In the ’60s and ’70s, healthier foods, like fresh fruits and veggies, appeared alongside pizza, fish sticks, and hamburgers. Processed foods like chicken nuggets, chocolate pudding, and sliced fruit drenched in syrup mirrored fast food and grocery store trends. In the ’90s and 2000s, there was a widespread effort to address childhood health with an emphasis on promoting healthier choices according to updated guidelines. 

Today’s healthier options have the bonus of partnering with area growers to supply school lunch offerings. It’s like upgrading an old black-and-white television to a new smart screen, but it leads to healthier students and more substantial agricultural businesses in our community. 

Megan Hall, school nutrition director of Fayetteville City Schools, said, “The 2023 National School Lunch Program (NSLP) Local Foods for Tennessee Schools Grant (CFDA#10.185) is part of a $200 million funding allocation through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under Section 5(c) of the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act (15 USC714c(c)). The grant allows school-awarded funds to purchase domestic, locally grown foods that are unprocessed or minimally processed from local producers, small businesses, and socially disadvantaged farmers and producers.” 

The area considered local to a school district is somewhat broad under the grant. The Fayetteville City Schools district works hard to tap into as many Lincoln County resources as possible. The district has worked with Tennessee Grassfed in Clarksville, Scott’s Orchard, Taylor Made Farms, Pilaroc Farms, and Fleur de Lis Farm. 

An added advantage is that the local nutrition department connects directly with the producers and farmers to arrange the purchase of their goods and issue payments. The department then applies for reimbursement from the USDA through the grant. 

Hall said, “The grant can also help cover certain temporary storage if needed to accommodate the amount of local foods and shipping and delivery. If the farmer or producer is not set up for delivery on a regular basis, the grant can help cover the extra expense for them through the school system.” 

The grant provides financial relief to the district, allowing the purchase of meat, milk, and vegetables at no charge when using local producers. The byproduct is its positive impact on the community and the stage it sets for future collaborations. The interactions between the school nutrition departments and area growers improve community relations as they support local businesses and farmers, investing money to support local producers. 

“We have always tried to support local but were never given the extra funds or know-how to actually do it. This grant has allowed us a guide to reach out further and help our local farmers,” said Hall. 

But the benefits don’t end there. Students demonstrate a willingness to try new things made possible by the grant. Children aren’t always naturally drawn to new food choices, but most students give it a chance. The menus are constantly evolving to make the most of the available items, many of which are seasonal. 

Hall said, “We have had wonderful results with everything so far and have a few more non-traditional items planned for spring.” 

While Farm 2 School enables partnerships with local growers and food-related businesses that feed students healthier options, it’s also building a stronger community for tomorrow. The program opens the door to a practical learning process that sparks the interest of future farmers. 

“It helps students see the hard workers we have around us and question and learn where their food comes from,” said Hall. “It is a step in the learning process for teaching future farmers and trying to help them learn that eating wholesome food can be fun and not as complicated as some may think.” 

In a community known for the support it provides its residents daily and in times of need, the program is right at home. GN

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