GOOCHLAND COUNTY, Va. — Virginia’s First Lady and state leaders are challenging schools across the Commonwealth to buy $22 million worth of locally grown food to serve to kids.
The hope is to make that happen by 2022. It’s part of a larger push to connect more students with farmers.
The sun beat down on the agriculture class at Goochland High School Tuesday, as they planted new lettuce plants in a hydroponic system they built all themselves.
“Basically instead of using like the fertilizer that would be in the ground or like in the soil, we use like liquid nutrients that helps to grow them better,” Kaytlin Hawk, 17 of Goochland, explained. “It’s not just soil that does all of the work.”
Hawk is one of roughly 200 students taking the class and working in a greenhouse, packed with flowers and crops ready to be harvested. Daniel Allen, the AG teacher, says they built the greenhouse 4 years ago.
“This greenhouse has probably been the most responsibility I think any of us have had in our high school career that are in these classes,” Hawk said. ‘It’s also just a great experience because we get to see where our food is going.”
The food isn’t going far.
The lettuce is cut every two or so weeks by the students and then it’s brought into the cafeteria salad bar.
“They want to eat more in the cafeteria if they know that they’ve grown this,” Lisa Landrum, the supervisor of nutrition and food services at the school division, said.
Having food they grow, Landrum says, changes what kids want to eat – even at home.
“I actually had a mom call me and she didn’t even really like greens but she said that her child and she said her child had asked her to buy kale,” Landrum chuckled. ” [The student] said “we grew it at school, we ate it and it was good.”’
The beef used for the tacos and taco bowls also comes from a local farmer.
Between 2014 and 2017, according to the Department of Education (DOE) and Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), Virginia schools roughly doubled the amount the of money they spent on local food purchases, from $7.7 million to $15.4 million.
State officials attribute the increase in local products to an interest in farm to school classes.
There are various funding grants and resources available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help schools pay for these types of programs. Virginia has received $759,767 in USDA Farm to School Grant Funds between 2013-2018 with a total of 12 grants awarded to schools, non-profits, and government agencies. There’s no specific state money for these programs, but the federal dollars are distributed through state departments, like DOE and VDACS.
About 20 percent of the food in the cafeteria at Goochland schools comes from local farms and the AG class. Landrum says that costs roughly $10,000 a year.
“I deal with small farms because I’ve done this for 10 years,” she said. “I have a pretty good relationship with the farmers that we do deal with.”
State officials say about 500 schools currently have farm to school programs that allow students to grow produce eaten in their cafeterias, similar to Goochland schools.
Virginia’s Farm-to-School Network is hosting meetings to develop regional plans for achieving the $22 million goal to get more local food into schools.
Three meetings already happened, here are the rest:
April 24 — Waterman Elementary School, 451 Chicago Avenue, Harrisonburg
May 7 — Frederick Douglass Elementary School Garden, 510 Principal Drummond Way SE, Leesburg
May 8 — New Earth Farm, 1885 Indian River Road, Virginia Beach
May 13 — Potomac Elementary School Garden, 16495 15th Street, King George
May 14 — Charlotte Farm Bureau, 400 George Washington Highway, Charlotte Court House
You can register to attend here.