Schools offer fresh local produce in student meals
Meals at Morgan County Schools have included fresh local produce this year. All seven schools get fresh cherry tomatoes weekly from Mock’s Greenhouse in Berkeley Springs.
They meet Mock’s employees on Monday mornings at a central location and then deliver the products to the schools, said Child Nutrition Director Kristie Randall. The facility also supplies them with slicing cucumbers through December or January.
All other fresh produce is supplied by La La Belle’s of Berkeley Springs, who was awarded the bid they submitted. Some products are locally grown by farmers in the Hagerstown- Smithsburg area and southern Pennsylvania. The state considers produce from within a 125-mile radius to be locally grown, Randall noted.
Products from La La Belle’s include bananas, grapes, cole slaw, carrots, salad mixes, potatoes and all other produce. Randall is also working with Orr’s Farm Market in Martinsburg on getting fresh apples.
Randall took school cooks out to Mock’s Greenhouse before school began in the fall. They received a tour of the facility and they were given goodie baskets of Bibb lettuce, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers to take home with them to try.
“They loved it,” Randall said.
Randall liked the freshness of the products and flavor when dealing with a local farmer. Plus they get money back from the state when dealing with a local farmer.
“As expensive as produce is, we can use all the help we can get,” Randall said.
Randall said she attended a Farm to School conference last year and also met with representatives from the Morgan County Association for Food and Farms (MCAFF). She created and shared a spreadsheet of produce she could use and how much she needed for the schools.
Randall said she didn’t know all of the necessary guidelines, but said that a facility that was interested in growing produce for schools would be required to have liability insurance and a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) special certification.
They would need to take produce straight from the farm and meet sanitation requirements. Produce for schools would have to be kept at strict temperatures and couldn’t be co-mingled with other commodities in a commercial refrigeration unit, she said.
Randall assumed that workers at such a commercial facility providing food for schools would need food handler’s permits, hairnets and would be required to follow other safe handling procedures.
Mock’s Greenhouse had the full certification needed to supply food to schools, she noted.
Farm to School growing
The Farm to School movement in Morgan County and West Virginia is still young, but growing. Andy Pense was hired as a new Farm to School coordinator for the region and was meeting with local representatives.
The state is trying to get farmers connected to schools, Randall said. She doesn’t have time to explore who is growing fresh food locally. If farmers don’t approach the school system, she doesn’t know who they are.
A national movement
Paul Mock, owner of Mock’s Greenhouse, said that the Farm to School movement is happening on a national, state and local level. It’s not just about farmers growing food but also involves an educational piece in the schools with school gardens and field trips. Mock is a member of Morgan County Association for Food and Farms (MCAFF).
Betsy Heath, also a MCAFF member, was working with Warm Springs Intermediate School staff and students on their school garden. They hoped to work with Berkeley Springs High School agricultural education teacher David Aberegg as well, Mock said.