Conference focuses on healthy schools

Richard Bogren  |  10/12/2018 6:29:12 PM

(10/12/18) BATON ROUGE, La. — Student access to healthy, locally grown foods was the focus of the 2018 Farm to School Conference on Oct. 9-10 in Baton Rouge.

The conference attracted more than 150 school administrators and teachers, food service managers, farmers, food distributors and others involved with Louisiana agriculture, school gardens and healthful school meals, said LSU AgCenter horticulture professor Carl Motsenbocker.

The conference was one component of a national Farm to School program that is funded in Louisiana through an agreement between the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Education.

Farm to school is the practice of sourcing local food for schools or preschools and providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, such as school gardens, farm field trips and cooking lessons.

The Farm to School program has three components: school gardens, student education and local sourcing, Motsenbocker said.

The school gardens sessions included using gardens in the curriculum or cafeteria while the education sessions focused on using farm-to-school activities for teaching about nutrition and healthy lifestyles. The local sourcing presentations included information on locating, purchasing and incorporating local foods into schools.

A Meet the Buyer reception on Oct. 9 attracted more than 100 participants who met retail, wholesale and institutional buyers and heard how to get more fresh produce into schools.

The reception was an important addition this year, Motsenbocker said. It provided a chance for producers to meet with potential buyers in an informal setting.

The Louisiana Farm to School program is supported by U.S. Department of Agriculture funding through the Louisiana Department of Education.

The conference “is an opportunity to truly help educate and promote something good,” said John Dupre, director of the Division of Nutrition Support in the Department of Education.

Bill Ludwig, regional administrator in the USDA Southwest Region office, cited the economic development aspect of schools purchasing from local producers.

“Farm to school is not easy,” said Ann Cooper, director of food services for the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” added Cooper, who presented the keynote address for the conference.

LSU AgCenter vegetable specialist Kiki Fontenot led a session on school gardens. She focused on plants you can plant and harvest during the school year.

She presented her top 10 tips on successful school gardens. And with the assistance of several AgCenter agents, she had participants plant six-packs of seeds to take back to their schools.

In another session, Pepper Bowen with the New Orleans Food Policy Advisory Committee stressed eating with the seasons and suggested farmers markets are an indicator of what produce is available.

“The more money we can keep in our local economy, the better off we all are,” she said.

People have many reasons to buy local, said Michelle Estay, director of commodity promotions and research with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

She pointed out the Louisiana Grown program that promotes specialty crops, allowing small producers to increase their businesses and expand access to markets.

Specialty crops grants are available to producer who grow and harvest 100 percent of their products in Louisiana, she said.

The Louisiana Farm to School Program recognized six individuals as champions for change. Each exemplifies at least one of the procurement, education and school gardens tenants of the program, said program director Crystal Besse.

The champions for change included state Sen. Francis Thompson; Nita Martin, Healthy Hands Certified Instructor, Small Fry's Cooking; Rory Gresham, green house production manager with Richland Parish School Board; Lauren Jones, garden manager, Shreveport Green/ShreveCorps; Celeste Finney, nutrition program coordinator, Lafayette Parish School System; and Dan Devenport, LSU AgCenter horticulture agent in Lafayette Parish.

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Susan Moore with Coghill Charter School in New Orleans plants seeds in a six-pack during a hands-on session about school gardens during the Farm to School conference in Baton Rouge on Oct. 10. Photo by Rick Bogren/LSU AgCenter

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A portion of the audience at the Louisiana Farm to School conference on Oct. 10 listens to keynote speaker Ann Cooper, director of food services for the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado. Photo by Rick Bogren/LSU AgCenter

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LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant agent Tom Hymel adjusts a display of Vermilion Bay Sweet shrimp at an information table during the Louisiana Farm to School conference on Oct. 10. Photo by Rick Bogren/LSU AgCenter

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