(MERCERVILLE) – More than 200 school food service professionals and business administrators from around New Jersey participated in the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s second Farm to School Summit that took place Wednesday at the Robert Wood Johnson Conference Center in Mercerville.
The Summit featured remarks from NJDA Secretary Douglas Fisher, as well as panel discussions and breakout sessions about various segments of a Farm to School Program during the day-long event.
“New Jersey Farm to School is an ever-growing opportunity to promote and make connections for fresh healthy foods produced by our farmers in the Garden State to go into schools in every district,” Fisher said. “The Department of Agriculture Farm to School Summit highlights the ways in which schools can be successful at this most important program.”
The Farm to School Summit takes place to provide school administrators, educators, community members and school food nutrition directors a variety of ways to encourage students to try produce that they might not normally have available. The topics discussed today included school gardens, school culinary programs, ways to connect students to taste tests, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and the new Jersey Tastes! Program.
NJDA Division of Food and Nutrition Director Rose Tricario was encouraged by the event having maximum attendance.
“It is wonderful to see so many school representatives have such a high interest in Farm to School,” Tricario said. “The whole idea of knowing where your food comes from and how it is grown allows children to have proper nutrition now and provides the opportunity for them to continue healthy eating habits for the rest of their lives.”
Hundreds of New Jersey schools are practicing those healthy habits. In a survey sent to school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program in New Jersey, 255 schools said they purchase some local produce from their main distributor, 223 districts said they purchase local produce directly from farms, 212 districts said they connect curriculum that ties cafeteria meals to healthy eating education and 114 districts said they organize field trips to farms.
The NJDA’s Farm to School Program started a new initiative at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year called Jersey Tastes! The program features one fruit or vegetable a month and provides resources for schools to encourage students to try produce that is available during the growing season in New Jersey.
The interactions at the Farm to School Summit also allowed those in attendance to exchange ideas and create relationships which are important part in supporting these initiatives.
“The value of sharing ideas and learning from one another is a great way for us to encourage each other and continue to make improvements to our programs,” said Bianca Aniski, the school nurse who heads the Farm to School Program at Long Beach Island’s Ethel Jacobsen School, which won the “Best in New Jersey Farm to School Award” last fall. “We know what having a school garden and the Farm to School Program has done for our school community and it’s exciting that so many are interested.”
To learn more about the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NJDeptofAgriculture and www.facebook.com/JerseyFreshOfficial or Twitter @NJDA1 and @JerseyFreshNJDA.