MARSING, Idaho — Idaho’s month-long farm-to-school celebration concluded with a visit by the USDA official who oversees federal school nutrition programs.
Kevin Concannon, under secretary of food, nutrition and consumer services for USDA, toured Marsing schools in southwestern Idaho Oct. 27 to get a first-hand look at the district’s farm-to-school efforts.
Concannon said his visit confirms the district is a leader in that area.
“They do fabulous work and I’ve seen it first hand here,” said Concannon, who oversees USDA’s 15 domestic feeding programs. “The district sources so much of the food that is served here from local farms in this area. This school district sort of does it all.”
The district, which is in the heart of farm country, purchases a wide variety of food from local farmers, including apples, peaches, pears, plums and other fruit such as berries, grapes and melons.
“We use as much local as we can,” said Teresa Bettleyon, the Marsing School District’s child nutrition director. “We’re always looking for more local food items.”
Besides being good for the local economy, purchasing food items directly from farmers heavily agricultural area is popular among the students because many of their parents pick or grow that food, she said.
Educating students about agriculture is a major focus of the district’s activities, Bettleyon said.
During October, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s Idaho Preferred program provided all schools in the state with resources to help them incorporate farm-to-school activities. They were encouraged to take “one small step” and add at least one local food item to their cafeteria menus.
“We live in a sate where there is so much agriculture that it should be relatively easy for them to add just one thing,” said Emily Del Favero, Idaho Preferred’s commerce development analyst.
Schools were also provided curriculum and materials to assist their efforts to teach children about agriculture.
Idaho Preferred will follow up with those schools.
“We hope to get more feedback from the schools so we can learn more about who’s doing farm-to-school, what they’re doing and how we can help them,” Del Favero said.
Concannon said USDA will continue to focus more on farm-to-school activities, which range from incorporating local farm products into school meals to teaching children about agriculture.
He said he has heard from farmers who said they have been able to keep their farms because of purchases from local schools.
“It puts those local dollars right back in the local community. We love that,” he said.
Teaching students where their food comes from is a major focus of farm-to-school efforts, Concannon said.
“Food doesn’t come from the supermarket; somebody has to grow it,” he said. Farm-to -chool activities “reinforce the importance of agriculture to the American economy. It’s one of the bright spots in the U.S. economy and for kids to connect to that is important.”