A top official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture visited a western Massachusetts school today to highlight a growing initiative that is giving more than half-a-million children across the county access to locally grown food.
On the lunch menu Wednesday at the John F. Kennedy Middle School in Northampton was chili with brown rice, or a chicken patty on a whole wheat roll. At the end of the cafeteria line children could help themselves to corn, green beans and sliced oranges.
Eleven- year- old Jet Duval said she appreciates the healthy choices for lunch but doesn’t always spoon the fruits and vegetables onto her plate.
The Northampton Public Schools participate in the USDA’s Farm to School program. Over 70 percent of schools in Massachusetts take part in the program. The national participation rate is under 30 percent.
USDA Undersecretary Kevin Concannon said the objectives of the program are to improve health and nutrition in the schools to combat obesity, educate children about where food comes from, and provide new markets for local farmers and ranchers.
The USDA awarded the Springfield Public Schools a grant totaling just under $100,000 this week to expand the Farm to School program in the city’s schools where more than 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced priced school lunches.
Seventy grants were awarded nationally for projects to connect school cafeterias to local farms.
The Northampton schools purchase about 10 percent of the lunchroom food from local growers, according to food services director Carol DiMauro.
The National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, has a grant program to help schools set up small gardens. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said the organization is a strong supporter of the Farm to School program.
Van Roekel and Massachusetts Teachers Association President Paul Toner were at the JFK Middle School on Wednesday to honor cafeteria workers and other support staff as part of American Education Week.