Yet, despite all of the attention and energy we apply to eating fresh, local, nutritious food, one simple fact constrains us: the local growing season. Here in Virginia, the growing season does not coincide with the school year. The "fresh" produce available for school meals has typically been picked before maturity, cold stored, and shipped and trans-shipped before it reaches the cafeteria tray or a distributor. And, fresh produce stays fresh only for so long.
Farm to School is a terrific concept, but the growing season in Virginia is basically from June to October. School budgets, the unpredictability of local produce availability, meal planning, and other factors further constrain the ability of schools to provide fresh local produce in school meals. We developed a school farm program that can establish an indoor farm in or near a school primarily to grow highly nutrititious microgreens for the cafeteria. We completed the pilot in a county school in academic year 2018-2019. We can scale an indoor school farm up or down. The school farm can produce any microgreen on a predictable schedule and in the needed quantity all during the academic year. Microgreens are generally 40 times more nutritious by weight than plants that are fully grown at harvest. An indoor farm also enables a school to implement a comprehensive, integrated, nutrition-based curriculum. The curriculum can be coupled with hands-on experiential learning. Educators have begun to appreciate and document the value of garden-based learning not only for nutrition and health, and biology and chemistry, but also for genuine integrated learning across the range of academic subjects. Since the time typically needed from seed to harvest for microgreens is 6-8 days, they are ideal for young learners.
Also, a profitable new business could be created in a community to grow fresh local produce specifically for a school system. Farmers now typically make available to schools only what is surplus in a harvest. Contracting, procurement, forecasting supplies and demands, and meal planning are therefore key obstacles for schools. A local commercial indoor farm overcomes these obstacles.
Farm to School provides a model for positively influencing children’s eating habits through school cafeteria improvements, hands-on nutrition education, and community involvement and support. The proven value and implications for new business creation, employment, food security, equity, and social justice are significant. If you are interested in having a small or large farm that can operate in your school throughout the academic year, CONTACT US.