Farm-to-school group meets in New Orleans

Richard Bogren, Savage, Ann E., Rouse, Lee, Motsenbocker, Carl E.  |  7/18/2015 12:43:37 AM

LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Lee Rouse presents a workshop on school gardens during the regional Farm to School meeting in New Orleans on July 16. (Photo by Rick Bogren, LSU AgCenter)

News Release Distributed 07/17/15

NEW ORLEANS – Farm-to-school supporters heard about ways to increase the use of locally grown produce in schools at a regional meeting on Wednesday (July 16).

A farm-to-school program comprises three components – gardening, education and procurement, said Carl Motsenbocker, professor of horticulture and sustainable agriculture in the LSU AgCenter.

These programs help schools respond to the growing demand for locally sourced foods, Motsenbocker said. They also increase marketing opportunities for local producers and food businesses, including food processors, manufacturers and distributors.

“In addition, they also support educational activities, such as school gardens, field trips to local farms, food tastings, nutrition education and cooking classes,” he said.

The gardening component focuses on school gardens, where students plan, plant, grow and harvest a variety of vegetable crops. Education includes nutrition, cooking and academic activities. Procurement is the process of identifying local producers and getting their products into school cafeterias.

Procurement is the most challenging aspect of the farm-to-school program, Motsenbocker said.

Three concurrent workshops included procurement and building relationships with growers, school gardens and matching garden activities with curriculum.

Lee Rouse, LSU AgCenter horticulture agent in Orleans Parish, presented a workshop on establishing and maintaining a school garden.

Just as an agricultural agent works with farmers to help them solve problems, so do horticulture agents work with school gardens, Rouse said. “We provide education support for gardeners and act as consultants.”

School gardens, in particular, present challenges regarding the use of pesticides and fertilizers, Rouse said, pointing out that many chemicals have restrictions on the length of time between an application and safe consumption.

“We pretty well teach organic gardening at schools,” he said. “We have to protect the kids who could pick a tomato or something and eat it.”

“I want to get teachers properly educated,” Rouse added. “I want to provide a resource for them but be available so they know someone’s here to be a safety net.”

Andrew Smiley, deputy director of the Austin Sustainable Food Center in Austin, Texas, talked about the farm-to-school program in his city.

The program started with farmers markets and healthy cooking classes and expanded into community gardens and school programs, he said.

“When we look at food, we look at the whole system of production, marketing and preparation,” Smiley said.

In order to expand the farm-to-school program, Smiley’s organization learned that as more schools were added, the organization’s methods had to change. “We don’t run gardens,” he said. “We train garden leaders and share resources.”

Kerrie Partridge, with Firstline charter schools in New Orleans, is program director for the schools’ Edible Schoolyard program. Each school – four are K-8 and one is a high school –has a garden, and each school uses the garden differently to meet its education objectives, she said.

Partridge is working with Chartwells, the schools’ food service provider, to coordinate menus.

“We don’t have production gardens,” she said. “But we’re forging a relationship with Chartwells to coordinate foods on the menu with production in the gardens.”

Two of the schools have teaching kitchens where students learn cooking skills as well as nutrition.

The New Orleans session was one of two regional meetings in Louisiana to follow up on a statewide conference held in Baton Rouge on May 27.

“For this region, we’re focusing on technical training,” said LSU AgCenter extension associate Ann Savage. “We have content experts to give people tangible information and provide in-depth knowledge.”

More than 50 people attended, including school administrators and teachers, food service professionals and a few farmers, she said.

The meeting was held under the auspices of the LSU AgCenter and funded through a U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School Conference grant.

Rick Bogren
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