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Rittman News:Farm to School takes off In information-gathering stage.

From Rittman, Ohio

Farm to School takes off In information-gathering stage
July 25, 2011  

By LINDA HALL

Staff Writer

WOOSTER -- It's farther from a farm field to a cafeteria table than one might think.

Even though Wayne County is heavily agricultural, a Farm to School initiative aimed at feeding area schoolchildren the freshest food possible is a process. In part, it involves identifying what local foods may be incorporated into school lunches and when they are available.

As interest has increased in not only teaching children about nutrition, but in curbing obesity and related health problems by feeding them healthy food, "I began to look into (Farm to School)," said Rich Thomas, director of business operations and programs for Tri-County Educational Service Center.

Several entities have taken advantage of local food supply and production, Thomas said, including The College of Wooster and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center; Bauman Orchards in Rittman, in collaboration with the Rittman, Southeast and Norwayne districts and the Wayne County Schools Career Center; and Moreland Fruit Farm, working with Triway and Green Schools.

Maurer Farms has worked with Wooster City Schools, Thomas said.

"We sell apples to the Wayne County Schools Career Center for 4-H fundraising," said Mike Lieberth, in charge of operations and accounts receivable for Bauman Orchards. "They have also bought them for their cafeteria," as does Rittman.

Other schools as well purchase apples for fundraising; Wadsworth City Schools buys apples during the entire season, Lieberth said.

"I would like to promote (school purchases) more," he said.

Chuck Wagers, the director of campus dining services at The College of Wooster, said in October that The college has purchased produce and other food items from area farms, including Pleasant View Farm in Smithville, Moreland Fruit Farm, Heini's Dairy in Berlin, Green Field Farms and County Line Mushrooms in Fredericksburg, and Smith Dairy and Oasis Acres in Orrville. The college additionally has its own garden, cultivated by students.

Thomas has been talking to Jessica Eikleberry, marketing manager for Local Roots, "trying to get that avenue of communication opened up," he said.

"We'd love to (be involved)," Eikleberry said. "I think it would be awesome."

The plan would need to take the growing season into consideration, she said, affirming growers "would love" to get their produce on the school menu.

In pursuing the initiative, Thomas has learned a number of lessons.

For example, "I'm finding in some instances, due to marketing needs and weather, on occasion there may be a surplus of certain types of produce," he said, perhaps available to school districts at a bargain price.

His thought had been, "it is always going to be cheaper to buy (items) from a wholesaler."

But "that's not always the case," said Thomas, who has discovered locally produced food may be cheaper and fresher.

The timing, particularly as it is related to seasonal changes, needs to be worked out on each side of the Farm to School equation, Thomas agreed.

Farmers "need a commitment for how many seeds to be put in the ground," while schools need to build into their school lunch plan the ability to make changes when local food is anticipated to be available.

The local Farm to School initiative held its first meeting on May 5, bringing together personnel from Ohio State University Extension Office, Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center, Wayne County Child and Family Health Services and other related organizations.

According to information distributed by Thomas, the Farm to School Collaborative across the nation aligns personnel in the field of education, nutrition and sustainable agriculture with $50 million in mandatory funding authorized by the 2010 Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

The local group's goals include connecting school leaders and area farm growers and food processors, developing a plan for using their products in school lunches, pursuing related grants and participating in a purchasing consortium.

Although opportunities already exist and are being used advantageously, and many schools have made adjustments to their menu, "(we're) still (primarily) in the information-gathering stage," Thomas said.

Reporter Linda Hall can be reached at 330-264-1125, Ext. 2230, or lhall@the-daily-record.com.

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