Farm to School Brings Local Food to the Community
By Kelsey Pohlman
Outreach and Engagement Communications Intern
In today's culture, people are more likely to be vegan and gluten-free and to choose organic foods. But what about choosing local? That is where the local foods movement steps in, and Farm to School is part of that.
The Farm to School program in Ohio began in 2007 and Ohio State University Extension took over as the state lead organization in 2011. Farm to School is a nationwide effort to get more locally grown foods into what Ohio State Assistant Professor and Director of Farm to School Carol Smathers calls, "the three C's: community, cafeteria and classroom."
"The program encourages procurement of locally produced and processed foods in the community, works on serving local foods in the cafeteria and boosts hands-on activity that gets children excited about school gardens, greenhouses and things like aquaponics in the classroom," Smathers explained. "Some of these concepts are even stretching to include Farm to Preschool, College and even Hospital."
Smathers engages in Extension teaching outside of the university and throughout local health departments. She also works on coordinating and connecting people to the different resources Farm to School has to offer in their partnerships with organizations like the Ohio Department of Education, Ohio Department of Agriculture and the American Dairy Association Mideast.
Smathers is not alone in her daily teaching efforts. She finds a Farm to School partner and supporter in Program Coordinator Amy Fovargue. Fovargue helps plan events and manages the Farm to School website and social media pages, but her favorite involvement is developing success stories about what is working related to Farm to School throughout Ohio.
"I love talking with people throughout the state and hearing how they incorporate Farm to School activities in their own community," Fovargue explained. "These efforts show the range of what is possible for schools and producers."
The story that impacts Fovargue most is that of Arps Dairy and the dairy farmers in Defiance, Ohio that provide the milk for their community. The farmers are very connected to local schools and support teaching activities by offering activities like field trips.
Arps Dairy: 80 Years of Local Milk
"At Arps Dairy we get raw supply from individual dairies within our community. The milk is [literally] coming from the farmer down the road," said Adam Donaldson, vice president of Arps Dairy. "We have a lot of loyalty with our brand, because we have a local mentality in our area. We are big supporters of our schools and especially the children of our community."
During the school season Arps Dairy produces 3.5 million units of half pints of milk with the majority being used at schools.
"We go above and beyond with our deliveries as our drivers are on a first name basis with the school cooks. We pride ourselves on being there for the schools from products to delivery," Donaldson explained.
But Arps Dairy doesn't work alone: Bok Family Farms has provided their milk for more than 25 years. The cows are registered Jerseys, which provide a high protein and high butterfat milk. The Bok's take pride in their high quality calf care and high quality milk production, which helps provide the best milk possible.
The Boks also provide educational outreach through school field trips and youth group tours to their farm. Wendy Bok says when she gives tours of their dairy she shows students how they milk their cows and where the milk is cooled so it can be hauled to the processing plant at Arps Dairy. She also shows the children where cows eat and are housed and they get to see the maternity pens.
"My family feels by selling our milk to Arps Dairy we supply the community and schools with quality milk, especially since Jersey cattle are known for their quality components," Bok concluded.
The Future of Farm to School
Farm to School is making big waves across all parts of Ohio. The program wants to get the word out about districts including Minerva Local School District, Fremont City Schools, and Akron City Schools, that have made great strides in serving locally produced foods.
"October was Farm to School month and we definitely took advantage of that," Smathers said. "We held five regional Farm to School workshops across Ohio which provided training to over 200 Ohioans working to bring the farm to schools."
Not only does Farm to School partner with other organizations, they even participated in the Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch. This event involved statewide participants crunching into local apples at the same time and then posting photos of their collective crunches to social media.
With all of these events, partnerships and moving parts, it is easy for any community to get involved in the healthy eating movement through Farm to School. Smathers' recommends that schools start with small, manageable steps and work their way up.
"It's an environmental change. Instead of saying 'Hey, eat kale!' find ways to cook it that the students like and let them try it," Smathers added. "This will change a lot more behaviors and there will be successes that lead to more successes. We can build from there."
It starts by crunching into a local apple.