October is National Farm to School month to help celebrate and encourage public schools to source foods and products for the National School Lunch Program from local farms. This includes in season fruits and vegetables, meats, breads and dairy products. The New Hampshire Farm to School (NHFTS) program was started in 2003 as a pilot program to bring local apples and ciders into New Hampshire K-12 schools. NHFTS has grown to include participation in over 300 schools and 80 farms throughout the state.
The Manchester School District is working with the New Hampshire Farm to School Program to educate and train the food service department employees in the preparation of more ethnic foods and dishes to help cater to the immigrant and refugee student population within the district.
The district has four workshops planned for the year, each focusing on a different type of regional cuisine. These cuisines include Asian, African, Latino and Middle Eastern. To tie in more farm to school efforts for the program, many of the produce and ingredients used in these workshops are sourced from Fresh Start Farms.
Fresh Start Farms located in Manchester, is a collective of immigrants and refugee farmers who are part of the New American Sustainable Agriculture Program. Fresh Start Farms is a project of the non-profit Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success (ORIS). The produce grown at Fresh Start is sold to restaurants, colleges, farmers markets, and farm stands in addition to the Manchester School District.
Purchasing local and in season produce has an array of benefits for health and the economy. Buying foods from local farmers helps reinvest money into local businesses and cut down on the amount of fuel used during transportation. Not only that, but local produce is full of flavor and nutrients that are often lost when transported far distances and picked before fully ripened. The shorter transportation time also helps to cut down on the risk of contamination and is easier to discuss growing practices with the farmers to know how and where the food is grown.
The Manchester School District is the largest in the state, with over 15,000 students, 14 elementary schools, four middle schools and three high schools. With thousands of mouths to feed nutritious meals and snacks to every day, including different types of dishes and foods can be an effective way to cater to the many backgrounds and preferences students have today.
There are many ways that schools can celebrate and becoming involved with farm to school month. Teachers can involve in-season produce in their curriculum and lessons, or take a field trip to a local farm. Cafeteria staff can spread the word about the celebration, and feature local produce such as in a salad bar or local apples with the main meal.