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Start or Expand Farm to School
West Virginia schools spend about $110 million each year on food. If the schools bought a tenth of that locally, West Virginia farmers would make $10.1 million.
This is precisely the mission of the Farm to School initiative set in place by the Office of Child Nutrition (OCN). Despite doubts early on that farmers don’t produce enough fresh produce to supply schools year-round, the program has taken off. After expansion of the program due to OCN efforts, by 2010 half the counties were participating, increasing the percent of the food dollar cycling back into the state instead of outside sources. Additionally, West Virginia schools were able to get start-up funds from the US Department of Agriculture. Beyond the obvious dollar advantages, national research is finding that children who attend schools that draw attention to the presence of fresh, local food tend to eat more of that food and show more interest in having it. The state, through a creative collaboration between Farm to School and the Ag Ed program, is also encouraging students to grow and sell produce. In 2012-13, participating students made between $2,000 and $10,000 apiece.
“We’re looking at an enormous potential market of healthy, local food,” said Tom McConnell, director of the West Virginia Small Farm Center.