USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service recently awarded New London Public Schools a “One in a Melon” award for administering an exemplary farm to school program. The school district was selected as the sole Connecticut winner of the award as it received the most public nominations.
“This award truly recognizes the important work of the district’s farm to school initiative, as well as the farmer's commitment to working with schools,” Samantha Wilson, the district’s Child Nutrition Program Manager, said. “We work with more than a dozen farms and organizations that provide fresh fruits and vegetables for our students, and who help in the hands-on work of our school gardens. We know that students are more likely to eat a fruit or a vegetable if they had a hand growing it."
From March 15 – April 15, parents, teachers, community stakeholders, and students were invited to visit USDA’s Farm to School Census website and nominate their favorite farm to school program to receive the award. According to the Census, 706 Connecticut school districts participate in farm to school activities, and a total of 5,254 school districts participate across the U.S.
Since 2014, New London Public Schools has been participating in farm to school activities. Every month, the district features its “Harvest of the Month” program, which allows students at every elementary and middle school a chance to taste test a featured local food item and then experience it as a part of the lunch menu later on that month. Some farmers participate in the taste tests and some even make time in the winter to visit schools and speak with students about agricultural careers. In addition, New London Public Schools participates in a processing project with two neighboring districts and more than a dozen local farms to process local food grown in the summer and fall months, to be used year round in each of the district's seven schools.
Farm to school programs help kids form healthy habits, learn where their food comes from, and develop an understanding of the importance of nutrition and agriculture. Results of the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census show that schools with robust farm to school programs report reductions in food waste, higher school meal participation rates, and increased willingness of the students to try new foods, notably fruits and vegetables. Census results also show that U.S. schools invested nearly $800 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers in the 2013- 2014 school year, which is money going directly back into local communities.