Farm to school lunch conference coming soon

Producers looking for ways to sell fresh, local foods to schools — and school districts looking to start or expand a Farm to School program — can come together during a statewide conference in March that’s designed to help expand opportunities between the groups.

Ohio State University Extension will host the Farm to School conference March 5 as part of an effort to continue to expand the successful program, which works to increase students’ access to healthy foods, increase their knowledge about food, health, nutrition and agriculture, as well as create economic opportunities for growers, said Carol Smathers, an OSU Extension field specialist and the program’s director.

The event is from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Ohio State University’s Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center, 2201 Fred Taylor Drive, in Columbus.

Farm to School is a national program, which in Ohio is led by OSU Extension and is supported by numerous agencies, foundations and industry organizations. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

The conference is expected to draw more than 250 farmers, producers, educators, school food service professionals, parents, business leaders and OSU Extension experts to create a forum to support getting more fresh, locally grown and produced foods into more school cafeterias and increase farmers’ economic opportunities, Smathers said.

“Producers and producer groups can benefit from the conference by learning more about U.S. Department of Agriculture school food programs and procurement processes, including how schools plan their meals and make purchasing decisions,” she said. “The more that producers understand schools’ meal guidelines and how schools plan and serve their meals, the better that food producers can meet the school’s needs.”

School districts can also learn more about the opportunities offered by producers, Smathers said.

“School food directors and educators can gain a better understanding of the produce variety grown in their region, more ways that local foods can be used in cafeterias and how schools can procure locally produced foods to serve to their students,” she said.

Ohio’s Farm to School Program has projects and partnerships in all 88 counties. Leadership of the program transitioned from the Ohio Department of Agriculture to OSU Extension in 2011.

“Extension is an ideal organization to service Farm to School because it has a presence in all 88 of Ohio’s counties and our programs touch on local foods in multiple ways,” Smathers said. “We also have statewide partners that help us maximize our reach throughout the state for the Farm to School program.”

Those partners including the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Ohio Department of Education, Ohio Action for Healthy Kids, American Dairy Association Mid-East, among others, she said.

“The conference brings together all types of leaders involved in making pre-K through college Farm to School programs work across the state,” Smathers said.

The conference theme is “Local Foods across the School Meal Tray,” and will include sessions on school breakfast requirements and options, challenges and opportunities for Farm to School programs, and a session on procurement for Farm to School programs, she said.

The conference will also feature breakout sessions focusing on four categories — meat, poultry and eggs; fruits, vegetable and legumes; whole grains; and dairy. A panel discussion by growers and statewide producer groups will provide:

  • Descriptions of the varieties of products produced locally.
  • Samples of products suitable for schools.
  • Processing and distribution information related to regions of the state.
  • Food safety considerations for schools.
  • Menu options, portion requirements, and trends for serving each food category in school meals.

The deadline to register for the conference is Feb. 20. Registration is $40 and includes breakfast, lunch and handouts. Registration information is available on the conference website at www.regonline.com/ohiofarmtoschoolconference.

For more information on Ohio’s Farm to School program, visit farmtoschool.osu.edu.

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