Halifax County: School Farm, Greenleaf Farm


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  • Cabbage, cabbage, watermelons and more: at @HalifaxRise students plant, grow and harvest fresh fruits and vegetables on a farm area, which are then included in school meals. Here’s how. @FarmtoSchool @ncschoolmeals

  • “We saw an opportunity to give our students a little hope that they might become entrepreneurs and farmers in the future, while teaching them where our food comes from.” @HalifaxRise @FarmtoSchool @ncschoolmeals

This is the second series of three parts from a farm to a school in North Carolina. The first piece emphasizes the Coalition from Farm to North Carolina School.

Five years ago, Joseph Otranto, director of baby nutrition Halifax County Schools, worked on a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) for his department. The analysis highlighted the economic and academic challenges facing an area where the poverty rate is almost 24% and the food security level is about 18%. But one of the strengths of the analysis was the rich natural resource in the countryside – land.

“Once upon a time, [Halifax] there has been a growing farming community, and in the last 50 or 60 years, 88% of family farmers have disappeared, ”Otranta said. “So we saw an opportunity to give our students a little hope that they might become entrepreneurs and farmers in the future, while teaching them where our food comes from.”

With this idea for Greenleaf Farm was born.

The idea is planted

Otranto has been in school nutrition for 26 years. One of his first positions was in Asheboro City Schools, where he incorporated nutrition instruction into the health curriculum in secondary schools, drawing on his previous experience as director of nutrition at the hospital. Then, seven years ago, Otranta began working in Halifax County. Around the same time, Dr. Eric Cunningham became the new head of the county.

“I told him,‘ Hey, we have a lot of land here. I know we have a gardening program. What do you think about building a farm? ‘”Otranto said.

According to Otranto, Cunningham was immediately drawn to the idea. Cunningham has told the Career and Technical Education (CTE) department that this is an idea he wants to implement. From there, Otranta began collaborating with the CTE department, including a horticultural instructor who had some experience of farming on school grounds.

They set about building a farm from scratch in Scotland Neck. Using redeveloped land at Browley High School, which was closed for several years, they set up an original farm one acre from an old baseball field. However, Halifax Southeast Collegiate Prep Academy was more than 10 miles from the farm in Brovley, making it difficult to transport CTE students studying on the farm.

In the end, the district decided to create a modern Greenleaf farm on nine acres Enfield Middle STEAM Academy, located closer to high school. This place also had flatter and sandy soil, which allowed the farm to plant vegetables and fruits that grow better on this type of soil, including melons and watermelons.

A number of local partners helped the farm, including Working landscapes, a nonprofit organization from Warrenton focused on rural economic development. A member of the Work Landscapes team helped contribute GAP (Good Agriculture Practices) certification. trainings for students and gardening teachers that help Greenleaf Farm become the first school district farm in North Carolina to receive GAP certification.

GAP certification has been an important step in farm development because any farm wishing to sell products to state schools must maintain annual GAP certification. The certification process can be time consuming and expensive – farmers may need to purchase new equipment, etc. average cost GAP’s audit in North Carolina is about $ 1,000.

“Everything is tracked from the moment the seed hits the ground to the moment it is sent to you,” Otranta said.

From the farm to the lunch tray

Food on the farm is planted, grown and collected by students from the Anfield High School and South East Preparatory High School, including those in horticulture and agricultural science classes. The harvest is then processed and delivered to the district school food department, where fresh fruits and vegetables from the farm are included in the school food.

Because agriculture depends on the weather, there is no guarantee that the crop will be harvested. Otranto constantly monitors weather conditions throughout the growing season. After the cultivation of watermelons, melons, zucchini, zucchini and okra is completed in August and September, the farm is overthrown and everything that has not been collected is returned to the soil. The farm also alternates plots, leaving them under steam every three to five years depending on what is growing.

The fall and winter growing seasons include foods such as cabbage, broccoli, mustard, cabbage, kale and rye – foods that Otranto then uses in school meals from mid-November to January. Changing the application time of different fields allows different amounts of food to come from the farm at different times.

“We learned early on that we can’t use everything at once,” Otranta said. “Because we don’t serve broccoli every day, we don’t serve cotton every day. But if it is available, I will make adjustments to my menu. ”

Like everyone federal-funded school nutrition programs, the dishes that Otranto creates from farm products must comply with strict regimes and nutrition requirements. These requirements include things like the amount and types of vegetables that need to be served each week, including a mix of red / orange vegetables, leafy greens and legumes.

Because the harvest from the farm can be unpredictable, Otranto said it can make menu planning difficult. He works closely with both the district’s gardening teacher and the nutritionist to agree on what is planted and when it is sown. Additional products from the farm, which cannot be used in the school district, are donated to local food banks.

“I’m not going to shy away from any produce that is available for harvest. We will use everything we can, ”he said.

Feeding bellies and minds

One day after the harvest, Otranto and his team cooked greens from a farm for lunch at one of the district’s elementary schools. A second grade class came over for lunch, and after they sat down in the cafeteria, Otranta overheard the conversation.

“The little girl looked up and said, ‘My sister planted this green, and it’s delicious!’ And the whole table was forked and they began to eat greens. It was just a wonderful moment, ”he said.

When Otranta began working with Halifax County schools, he said the school food menu included mostly foods such as canned fruits and vegetables. So he set to work, rethinking what could be school food. Otranta set up his team, gave them access to culinary training and brought in chefs and other speakers to help them think of ways to reform the lunch menu.

“We looked at minimally processed foods and fresh produce and how it benefits us, our staff, our students – without filling them with various additives and preservatives,” Otranta said.

Now the school lunch menu consists of using cooking speed and fresh fruits and vegetables from the farm. The school nutrition department also runs a series called “Growing Up” in elementary schools, where they teach about certain fruits or vegetables every month and then serve those foods to the canteen.

In addition to the benefits that students receive from eating a variety of fruits and vegetables grown on the farm, Otranta said he sees benefits for students who gain hands-on learning experience on the farm.

“They like to apply what they’ve learned in class,” he said. “It realizes what they’re actually learning in the books, helping them understand the GAP process, helping them understand what it takes if you want to become an entrepreneur.”

And while Otranta admits that not many students from the CTE program will eventually choose agriculture as a career, he said several graduates have moved to North Carolina and NC A&T, two state universities that receive a farm grant. For Otranto, the program is not only about teaching students how to run a farm or integrate CTE coursework, but also about giving students a sense of hope.

“You can use your own vision, your own dream, to do what you never thought you could do,” he said.

To learn more about the benefits of Greenleaf Farm, watch this video with superintendent Eric Cunningham, farm manager Reginald Cotten, Gabe Cumming of Working Landscapes and students working and studying on the farm.

Reginald Cotten, farm manager and teacher, discusses the harvest with Halifax County school students at Greenleaf Farm. Provided by Halifax County Schools

Finding opportunities in the face of problems

To run the Greenleaf farm, the district received initial funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and has since received other grants. But the main source of funding for the farm comes from the CTE department, which buys seeds. The school district’s baby food department then purchases products from the farm micro-procurement methods and USDA waivers.

One of Otranto’s biggest concerns about expanding the school economy is the complex rules surrounding funding school meals and purchasing food for school meals. School catering departments work financially independently of their school districts, with much of their funding coming from USDA federal compensation.

“We are responsible for our own funding, and that makes many people reluctant to engage in something like this,” Otranta said. “But I don’t see a problem – I see an opportunity.”

Another potential problem with the use of local food in school meals is that the food department may lack the resources and staff to wash, process and prepare raw fruits and vegetables directly from local farmers. To help with this, Halifax County Schools is working with Working Landscapes, the same organization that helped with GAP farm certification. Working Landscapes operates a food center that washes, grinds and packs a variety of products from local farms for resale for consumption.

“School kitchens are not built to work with fresh produce … we can’t afford staff to do that. So if you can cut it, prepare it and pack it for us, then we can make better use of it, ”Otranta said.

Otranta sees expanding partnerships between food centers and school districts as an important way to increase farm-to-school efforts. In VirginiaThe State Department of Education is working with regional food centers to deliver about $ 2.2 million in locally produced food to school nutrition departments across statistics through a pilot program funded USDA Supply Chain Assistance Funds.

Faced with challenges, Otranto says partnerships and collaboration are needed to build successful initiatives from the farm to the school.

“There’s so much in this job and you can’t do it on your own,” he said. “For this to happen, you need to have a village… you need to have enthusiasm and vision.”

Sorels analysis

Analysis Sorels is a PhD candidate in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, and previously served as Chief of Staff and Deputy Director of EducationNC Policy.

Halifax County: School Farm, Greenleaf Farm

Source link Halifax County: School Farm, Greenleaf Farm