Louisiana Farm to School Plants Seeds to Success

Crystal Besse

Strawberries, sweet potatoes and satsumas are just a few of the Louisiana locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables that schools and preschools across Louisiana feature in classrooms and cafeterias as part of the Louisiana Farm to School Program.

Students learn about these local favorites with the help of Louisiana Harvest of the Month, a collection of lessons, posters and other resources about local food from the Farm to School program.

Harvest of the Month began as a pilot project in 2015 at three schools in the state. Because of its success, it evolved into the Louisiana Farm to School Program, a more comprehensive effort to increase farm to school activities and local procurement.

“Because we live in a farming community, I want our students to understand how farming helps to drive the economy in Avoyelles Parish,” said Betty Jeansonne, a 4-H sponsor and teacher at St. Mary’s Assumption School in Avoyelles Parish, who signed up for Louisiana Harvest of the Month in 2018, when the program launched statewide. “Teaming up teachers, students and farmers has given us the opportunity to connect with the youth and bring agriculture to them and their families.”

By using resources from the program, Jeansonne provides lessons that encourage healthy living and eating more fruits and vegetables. Activities include school gardens and taste tests to help kids embrace new options in the cafeteria by helping them learn to try and like new foods. This hands-on approach to learning about food encourages students to make healthy choices, an approach that has reached 55,000 Louisiana students through Louisiana Harvest of the Month in the 2018-19 school year.

Farm to school activities help strengthen the National School Lunch Program by bringing more students into the lunch line and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. Take these Louisiana examples:

  • Schools in Lafayette Parish and at James A. Herod Elementary in Vermilion Parish hold cooking competitions using seasonal produce grown in the school garden. Students pair with area chefs to prepare recipes and compete. After the competition, Lafayette Parish features the winning meal on the child nutrition menu districtwide.
  • Students at Brookstown Middle School and Istrouma High School in East Baton Rouge Parish use their knowledge of aquaponics, hydroponics and aeroponics to grow lettuce and a variety of other fruits and vegetables. Now they are selling more than 20 pounds of lettuce every two weeks to the cafeteria for school meals and provide spices and herbs for the culinary program.
  • Preschoolers in St. Tammany Parish are learning about nutrition through classroom lessons, coloring pages and taste tests. Based on follow-up surveys with the parents, the preschoolers have begun requesting more fruits and vegetables at home after trying them at school during Louisiana Harvest of the Month activities.

The Farm to School program manages two other projects, MarketReady and Louisiana MarketMaker. The MarketReady program involves training workshops for local growers to help them learn business strategies and keep up with food safety regulations. Louisiana MarketMaker is an online service that helps consumers find locally grown and produced food products.

Resources offered to teachers participating in the Farm to School program include the Louisiana Harvest of the Month Tool Kit. This tool kit contains implementation materials and produce safety information, as well as a tutorial for how to use Louisiana MarketMaker. The tool kit is a guide for anyone interested in starting a Louisiana Harvest of the Month program in their community and is available on the Louisiana Farm to School website.

These resources are also expanding to include recipes. Through a partnership with the LSU School of Nutrition and Food Sciences, healthy and delicious recipes that showcase Louisiana Harvest of the Month items are being created for meals at home and for meals that meet federal school meal requirements and are served in school cafeterias.

Each year the Louisiana Farm to School Program hosts the Louisiana Farm to School Conference. The 2019 conference will be October 22-23 at the Pennington Biomedical Conference Center in Baton Rouge. A Meet the Buyer event will kick off the conference and provide producers and school nutrition staff networking opportunities to increase local food in school meals. The conference also features the Great Louisiana Satsuma Peel, where attendees enjoy Louisiana satsumas together.

The Louisiana Farm to School Program is designed to increase access to fresh, local foods while strengthening local communities and their economy. Funding for the program is made possible through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and an interagency agreement with the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Education Division of Nutrition Services. For more information, visit the Louisiana Farm to School Program.

Crystal Besse is the director of the Louisiana Farm to School Program at the LSU AgCenter.

(This article appears in the summer 2019 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

Two girls eating strawberries.

Taste tests of fresh, local fruits and vegetables encourage students to try new foods they might have avoided in the past. This photo is at a Louisiana Farm to School event at the Knock Knock Children’s Museum in Baton Rouge. Photo by Olivia McClure

Cooks in the kitchen.

Erma Richard, an East Baton Rouge Parish school cafeteria worker, prepares a sweet potato recipe developed through the Harvest of the Month program during a training workshop at the Louisiana Culinary Institute. These workshops are held several times a year to help the workers improve their culinary skills. Photo by Ruthie Losavio

Boy holding a plant.

The Louisiana Farm to School Program encourages schools to grow school gardens and assists schools in teaching students where fruits and vegetables originate. This photo is at the St. Mary’s Assumption School garden in Avoyelles Parish. Photo by Betsy Jeansonne

Two girls handling lettuce.

Some middle and high school students use aquaponics, hydroponics and aeroponics to grow lettuce and other fruits and vegetables. Students in some East Baton Rouge Parish schools sell more than 20 pounds of lettuce every two weeks to the cafeteria. These students are at Brookstown Middle School. Photo by Ruthie Losavio

1/14/2020 1:01:25 AM
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