On Friday 31, May 2013 Page County Schools celebrated Go Local Day. They celebrated by having fresh, local food for students to try at lunch. The item for tasting was a spinach salad with strawberries, mandarin oranges, and a raspberry vinaigrette. Volunteers helped the cafeteria staff prepare and distribute the salads. The local foods were provided by Page County Grown. Page County is the leading county in Virginia for incorporating local foods into the school lunch program. There are nine schools in Page County and there are 3560 students in the schools. Each school receives deliveries week and serves fresh produce daily.
The children loved Go Local Day! The children at Luray Elementary School ate every last piece of salad. They especially loved the strawberries. Many kids said, “Strawberries are my favorite food!” Since the spinach accompanied the strawberries, many of the kids tried and ended up liking it. Students told stories of their favorite times in gardens and on farms. They explained that they like the local farmers and want to help their neighbors. When asked if they would eat the salad again, about 82% of the children said that they would. This is great news because the salad is planned to be served again.
The teachers and teacher’s aids said they were supporters of local food. One teacher said, “It’s wonderful to have local food in our cafeterias.” They explained that they think it is important for the students to have fresh, healthy food, and it is even better when it is locally sourced. They are glad the students have the opportunity to try these foods and support local foods being incorporated into school lunches more often.
Incorporating local food into school meals has many benefits. Economic growth of the local economy is a large benefit. Page County is one of the most economically stressed counties in Virginia. A Luray-Page County Board Member explains how purchasing local food for schools impacts the county by saying , “Producers, consumers and the local economy profit from the reinvestment of food dollars that otherwise leave the county.” Since Farm to School has been implemented there has been a 300 percent increase in local foods purchased by public and private schools. If just $0.25 of each student lunch was put towards purchasing local foods, $30.7 million would be reinvested into Virginia’s economy. A movement towards utilizing local foods in school systems can generate wealth and help rejuvenate local economies, such as Page County.
It is also important to have local foods in schools to help with education on healthy eating. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan says “Evidence also suggests that when kids understand more about where food comes from and how it is produced, they are more likely to make healthy eating choices.” It is important to take the opportunity to expose these children to healthy, delicious produce so that they can build a relationship with it from a young age. This relationship will last their entire lives and we can, “create a new generation of healthy eaters.”
Go Local Day was a huge hit in Page County. Producers, volunteers, school administrators, cafeteria staff, teachers, and students came together and celebrated local food in local schools. It was a great moment for the constantly growing farm to school program in Page County. It was such a great celebration and a spring board for more days of local food to come.
Read about a volunteer’s experience at Go Local Day at Luray Elementary School.