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AgCenter receives USDA grant for farm-to-school conference

News Release Distributed 11/13/14

BATON ROUGE, La. – A conference to address a statewide farm-to-school initiative has recently been funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School Grant Program.

Through a $25,000 grant, the LSU AgCenter will host a statewide farm-to-school conference to bring together school administrators, teachers and parents, food service managers, farmers, food distributors and others involved with Louisiana agriculture, school gardens and healthy school meals, said Annrose Guarino, the AgCenter state specialist for urban health.

Guarino and AgCenter horticulturist Carl Motsenbocker are leading the effort to develop a conference that will be held in 2015 to address food education and community health and provide economic development opportunities for local farmers.

The first Louisiana farm-to-school conference will be supported by a planning steering committee and a group of partner organizations, Guarino said. The format will center on education, gardening and procurement and provide technical assistance in areas such as local food procurement, food and garden safety, culinary education and incorporating curricula into existing core classes.

“The conference and three regional follow-up workgroup meetings will provide opportunities for local interested parties – including agriculture professionals, faith-based organizations, smaller nonprofits, private schools and others – to join the farm-to-school movement,” Guarino said.

It will provide examples of best practices from similar programs in other states, she said. The follow-up sessions are expected to be held in New Orleans, Ruston and Lafayette.

The Louisiana program is part of a national farm-to-school movement, Guarino said.

Farm to School is the practice of sourcing local food for schools or preschools and providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, such as school gardens, farm field trips and cooking lessons, organizers said. Farm to school improves the health of children and communities while supporting local and regional farmers.

The conference will provide information on local procurement and knowledge of existing resources for school curricula, Guarino said. Procurement is when local foods are purchased, promoted and served in the cafeteria or as a snack or taste-test.

In addition, the program will highlight nutrition-related activities that can be incorporated into science, math, physical activity and language classes, she said.

“Farm to School is a win for children, farmers and communities,” said Katie Mularz, Louisiana Farm to School director. “This conference comes at pivotal time for Louisiana as we continue our efforts connecting Louisiana schools with Louisiana agriculture and raising awareness about Farm to School.”

Several local agencies and governments have joined as partners in the program.

"If you talk to anyone involved in farm-to-school across the state, they'll very quickly tell you they still haven't solved the procurement riddle,” said Lyndsi Lambert with the Mayor’s Healthy City Initiative in Baton Rouge.

“Bringing in procurement and food safety experts to help map out the next steps we need to take is exactly what this conference grant can help accomplish,” Lambert said. “We need to increase sourcing local and regional products in school cafeterias -- and not just fruits and vegetables, but the whole plate."

Conference planners include representatives from the education community as well as from urban food organizations and agricultural interests.

“Farm-to-school programs present opportunities not only for our children but also for our farmers,” said Carrie Castile, associate commissioner in the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. “These programs highlight the social, economic and educational benefits of Louisiana agriculture.”

Rick Bogren
Last Updated: 11/13/2014 11:20:16 AM

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