Arkansas Farm to School Month 2020
Beginning in 2014, October has been proclaimed as Arkansas Farm to School Month following a nationwide trend that was initially designated in 2010 by the National Farm to School Network. Each year thereafter, more and more students have dug in the soil, crunched into locally grown carrots, and discovered the benefit of agriculture in exciting and rewarding ways through garden-based educational activities.
Theme this year was all about “Celebrating Local!” From the farmers who grow our food to the educators and parents who teach children about gardening, cooking, and nutrition, together we create a strong local food network that supports the future of our Arkansas ag industry, school food service programs, and the communities who depend on it.
Who is Involved?
Farm to School Month is a time to celebrate the hard work of schools, farmers, students, and others. All 50 states in the U.S. including Washington D.C. and U.S. Territories join in. Over 23.6 million kids from across the nation participate in farm to school activities year-round. Also, more than 200 organizations spread the word about farm to school in the month of October. The most recent USDA Farm to School Census from the 2013-2014 school year reported that Arkansas had 47 school districts, 195 schools, and 95,605 students participate in farm to school. Further, in Arkansas, there are 42,300 farms and 96 percent of them are family-owned. By introducing our students to the network of local growers, we can pass on the heritage of Arkansas Grown agriculture and support a whole new generation of young farmers.
How is it celebrated?
By eating locally grown food, you can show your gratitude for all the work that it takes to bring a bite of food from the farm to your fork. Hands-on experiences are a great way to learn about the hard work it takes to grow food, and when students dig in the dirt, they get that first hand experience. Across the state of Arkansas, students experimented with plants, managed gardens, and even tasted the fruit of their labor by incorporating their produce into their school cafeteria menu. You too can participate by buying local produce and supporting the farmers who sell their produce to their community at farmers markets, grocery stores, through weekly delivery boxes such as CSA subscriptions, or online.
The real celebration is the students’ hard work resulting in numerous rewards. Many school gardens recap lessons learned over the course of the growing season, take their produce to market, or share their bounty among classmates, friends, and family. This reinforces the “Celebrate Local” mantra of the Arkansas Farm to School Month by encouraging them to eat local, grow local, and learn about locally-produced foods.
What happened this year?
This year, in the middle of the pandemic, Arkansas Farm to School Month looked a little different. School districts had to develop alternative school meal plans to work with a variety of virtual and in-person styles of instruction. Childcare centers planned new ways to learn about local food, and schools had to brainstorm ways to continue providing the opportunities for students to tend a garden while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
The Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School and Early Childhood Education Program found a way to bring Arkansas together to celebrate local food by hosting a virtual farm field trip. The Department partnered with Heifer USA to host the virtual event at Heifer Ranch in Perryville. The event was live-streamed on YouTube. More than 2,000 students and adults registered for the virtual tour of Heifer Ranch and to ask questions in real-time about eating and growing local food.
From eating locally grown food to sowing seeds in a school garden and learning about our local environment and agriculture, in spite of the challenges, there was a way for many of our students and communities to celebrate Arkansas Farm to School Month.