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Program aims to bring fresh, seasonal produce into Louisiana schools

News Release Distributed 09/15/14

BATON ROUGE, La. – Growing interest in making fresher, more healthful food available in Louisiana communities has led the LSU AgCenter to implement the Louisiana Harvest of the Month pilot program in three Louisiana schools – Dufrocq Elementary School in Baton Rouge, Andrew H. Wilson Charter School in New Orleans and North Bayou Rapides Elementary School in Alexandria.

Harvest of the Month is designed to deliver fresh-from-the-farm specialty-crop fruits and vegetables one day each month to each school, said Ann Savage, program director for Harvest of the Month

The program is being developed this fall and will be implemented starting in January 2015 by the LSU AgCenter in partnership with The Louisiana Farm to School Network, Fresh Beginnings, Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance (CLEDA), Slow Food Baton Rouge and other community partners.

The program is funded through a U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Grant Fund coordinated by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

Currently, childhood obesity is at its highest rate, Savage said. In Louisiana, 40 percent of youth are overweight or obese.

“Innovative programs like Harvest of the Month aim to connect kids with food and where it comes from,” Savage said. “There is no question that the areas where children live, learn and play can have a real impact on their eating habits.”

The program will promote Louisiana’s horticultural diversity and long growing season by highlighting a different, in-season, local fruit or vegetable each month.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to pilot the Louisiana Harvest of the Month Program so that we can use this program to create a model for the purchase of local produce and serving it in schools,” Savage said. “By starting on a small scale we hope to develop protocols and recommendations for schools statewide and demonstrate it is possible and adaptable to schools around our Louisiana.”

“In 2012, the National School Lunch Program served 92 million lunches to Louisiana students,” she added. “If we could buy just a fraction of this food locally, it could be a huge boost for the local economy.”

Throughout the year this program will extend from the classroom to the cafeteria to the home and community, promoting healthier habits and futures for Louisiana students.

The pilot program will affect nearly 2,000 students and their families during its first year, Savage said. It will allow students to learn about the various nutritional benefits, history, fun facts and botanical and growing information of fruits and vegetables through educational materials for all involved.

“Given that children spend the majority of their day at school, school meals and snacks have a significant impact on youth’s diets,” said Carolyn Johnson, director of the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University. “The Louisiana Harvest of the Month statewide program for fruits and vegetables will allow the LSU AgCenter to promote fruit and vegetable consumption and educate youth about the origin of food.”

“The program is a win for everyone – kids win because they are gaining access to nutritious, high-quality, local food while learning the origin of their food; farmers win because they are gaining access to a new institutional market; communities win by reducing carbon footprints of food transportation while stimulating the local economy with local purchases,” said Katie Mularz, Louisiana state lead for the National Farm to School Network.

A successful farm to school program has three components – local and regional procurement, education and gardening, Savage said.

“The Harvest of the Month program will work in its pilot stage to target the first two components in a way that provides a sustainable model for continued support when funding ends,” she said. “We hope in the future we can target the third component of gardening while also taking the model we have created and providing the program to more schools throughout the state.”

Rick Bogren

Last Updated: 9/15/2014 3:25:40 PM

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