Virginia county spreads awareness of Farm2School efforts

AFP Correspondent

PULASKI, Va. (Aug. 25, 2015) — The afternoon sun was hot and a train whistle blew behind the Farm2School booth at The Market here at a restored train depot as Ethelene Sadler and several volunteers shared information about a new effort to connect farmers and school children.
Sadler is Pulaski County’s school nutrition director. She was attending the town’s farmers’ market to tell the public about the $43,415 Farm2School planning grant the Pulaski County school system received from USDA and its importance to the community.
Pulaski County is one of 82 school divisions in 42 states to receive one of these grants for the 2015-16 school year, Sadler said after her visit to The Market. She described Farm2School as an effort to better connect school cafeterias and students with local farmers.
The grant is expected to impact 4,300 students in the county’s eight schools.
The Farm2School booth joined a number of other educational exhibits, vendors, farmers selling produce and meats, bakers, artists, musicians and chefs at the weekly market. 
In explaining the program, Sadler noted that “school meals” have been replaced by the term “school nutrition.”
“The school breakfast and lunch program has evolved into a name which sets the program apart from all others,” she said. “This name, school nutrition, defines the purpose: To provide wholesome, balanced and nutritious meals for all students.”
As the ongoing purpose of the program is to serve quality meals that contribute to a child’s long-term health and wellness, the system has found it cannot rely solely on county farmers for local foods. While the school system been working this year to develop partnerships with local farmers, officials have worked with Roanoke Fruit and Produce, a nearby broker, to be sure it can sustain the flow of local fruits and vegetables.
Sadler said that the school’s nutrition department is allowed to define what is local.
Across the country, USDA is helping develop these planning grants, Sadler added and said she hopes the programs can use information from each other overcome barriers and be successful.
She said it is challenging and complicated to develop the program so students can readily see school nutrition working.
“We have a heart for this,” she said. “We have to really work to get to where we want to build the program.”