Cultivating Change: Louisiana Farm to School Program Connects Students to Full Plates and Healthy Habits

Kyle Peveto, Besse, Crystal, Finney, Celeste H.

Crystal Besse and Celeste Finney

An elementary school implements a gardening and culinary program to teach students how to prepare recipes using produce grown in their own school garden through the help of a local farmer.

A school district makes changes to its nutrition policy and introduces a life skills course that includes using a vocational kitchen and raising a school garden whose produce is sold at the local farmers market and included in cooking demonstrations for the community.

An urban middle school holds a ceremony to celebrate students’ engineering and science achievements through the use of an aquaculture system to raise fish and grow lettuce, which are in turn sold to the school cafeteria and other markets.

What do these three scenarios have in common? They all utilize the three main components of the nationwide movement termed “farm to school.” Through the three pillars — hands-on gardening experience; opportunities to try local, seasonal produce; and participating in educational activities related to agriculture, food, health or nutrition — farm to school not only enhances the learning environment but can also lead to improved eating habits for students throughout the state. Farm-to-school activities like growing a garden, taste tests and learning where our food comes from encourage students to expand their food experiences by encouraging them to try and like new foods.

When a child grows a carrot or grows kale, the resistance to try it fades away. Suddenly, they are not only willing to eat it, but there’s a sense of pride and accomplishment as well. And it's contagious. The number of schools and districts that work with the Louisiana Farm to School Program is growing. Rising support from communities provide a substantial boost to schools, creating more robust farm to school activities and school gardens.

The Louisiana Farm to School Program began in 2016 with U.S. Department of Agriculture funding made possible through an interagency agreement between the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Education. Since 2021, the Louisiana Farm to School Program has been rebranded as Seeds to Success: The Louisiana Farm to School Program to better capture the potential and full scope of how farm to school impacts local food systems in our state. The goal for Seeds to Success is to empower communities to transform food systems through local food sourcing and nutrition and agriculture education in Louisiana school systems and beyond. Over the past three years Seeds to Success has created a resource-rich website; expanded the Louisiana Harvest of the Month portfolio to 20 Louisiana products; and produced crop-specific, field-to-fork videos, taking viewers on a virtual farm tour. All the while, Seeds to Success sustains the effort to connect Louisiana farmers and producers with school systems to provide fresh food for their hungry and often food-insecure students through the program’s materials, resources and producer database.

This hands-on approach to learning about food encourages students to make healthy choices, an approach that has directly impacted nearly 56,000 Louisiana students through the Seeding Louisiana initiative alone. Seeding Louisiana began as a promotional campaign funded by a 2019 USDA Farm to School grant. Promotional seed packets were distributed to over 1,600 Louisiana schools, and over 1,000 seed starter kits were distributed to teachers to expand farm to school programming in the classroom. In support of the physical materials, the Seeds to Success website provides unlimited access to growing guides and engaging lessons, all designed to integrate gardening into classroom and at-home learning. The website,, houses targeted information on how to grow fruits and vegetables in Louisiana at your school or home, how to apply those skills into learning, and then how to turn those interests into a budding career. Additional materials on the website include Louisiana Harvest of the Month, recipes, tips for purchasing locally and a wealth of resources to support local food and farm to school efforts.

Training and technical assistance are integral to Seeds to Success. The pandemic forced many school nutrition directors to reassess where their food is coming from and how to better source the ingredients they need locally. The Seeds to Success team is constantly working to connect producers with each other, community partners and potential buyers through farmer marketing training, local procurement technical assistance, and marketing materials to educate stakeholders.

To further enhance programs like Seeding Louisiana, summer workshops like the School Garden Leadership series offer over 20 hours of hands-on gardening and educational sessions for classroom teachers. The Seeds to Success: Louisiana Farm to School Program, developed and managed by the LSU AgCenter, is the only statewide comprehensive program supporting farm to school and the three pillars of farm to school.

Crystal Besse is the program director for Seeds to Success: The Farm to School Program, and Celeste Finney is the manager of school nutrition and procurement for the program.

(This article appears in the spring 2023 edition of Louisiana Agriculture.)

A man talks with two children wearing aprons.

Children learn to cook fresh local foods at a Garden to Table event. Photo by Crystal Besse

A woman in a surgical mask holds up a book for three children to see while reading to them.

Educator Lori Long Watkins uses a Seeds to Success lesson to teach preschool students in Winnsboro. Photo by Lois Jordan

6/7/2023 8:45:56 PM
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