• Melanie Smith-Bell

Covid-19 Impact on Farm to School

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

As you can imagine the pandemic has had a disruptive effect on plans for Farm to School in Frederick County. Our program was awarded a significant implementation grant from the USDA to increase access to locally grown food in FCPS. Our partnership focuses on Title 1 elementary campuses, which have a high proportion of students receiving free or reduced price meals. As most people are probably aware by this point, the virus has made it necessary to completely reinvent school meal service. Students are being served to-go meals, and the level of need has increased as many families' livelihoods have been strained. As a result, school meal service is particularly vital at this time. To-go meals are available at 34 campuses and 9 community drop off locations, and if you or someone you know needs more information you can read about that here.

Ordinarily we would be visiting campuses to present Harvest of the Month programs to introduce local in-season produce to students at our partner schools, Chef Sean at Food and Nutrition services would work with students to prepare a recipe, the students would participate in a taste test and learn about the plant and the farm it came from, and FCPS dietitian Monica Skidmore would work that food into the menu to make it available in the school cafeteria line so that students have more opportunities to enjoy it. The reality of the to-go meal experience is that the cafeteria is not able to serve the same types of food because it needs to be transportable, and it also needs to be something that can be picked up one day and eaten the following day.

The Starbucks Foundation had also provided us with a grant to provide farm field trip experiences, which were intended for the very week that school closed down last spring. To align with the second grade curriculum a spring farm trip would have taught about pollination using the apple blossoms at Catoctin Mountain Orchard, where FCPS procures all of their apples for the school cafeteria. Just like school, Harvest of the Month has gone virtual, and just like meals, Farm to School is now off campus.

The pandemic has resulted in one silver lining for Farm to School--interns to help us adapt our educational efforts. During a regular school year the dietetic interns from the University of Maryland would be doing rotations with FCPS Food and Nutrition Services. The school system is unable to have them on site due to public health policies, but we have been fortunate to find that their learning objectives align nicely with the ways we can adapt content to the online experience. The four interns who have worked with us so far have helped produce brief video content for students, starting right out at Catoctin Mountain Orchard for the first of these. This has been a learning experience for all of us (read about it from an intern's perspective). They are also doing a variety of writing for different audiences like blog posts, educational materials, and public policy advocacy--all of which suit our needs as well.

Broadening our horizons will be a great benefit to the program as we dive in alongside them to discover and troubleshoot the process of creating virtual Harvest of the Month experiences that demonstrate different produce grown on our Frederick County Farms, like A Piece of Harmony (image above). There they highlighted growing, washing and packing kale, and the interns also visited Pleasant Hill Produce and Dandelion and Rust, where they learned about all kinds of peppers (video above). What we are learning as we go includes how to make more stable videos, what format is useful to FCPS, and how to handle background noise and wind. It's great to have student projects to get the ball rolling and benefit this program. The visiting interns have inspired all kinds of creative thinking.

The USDA Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program is integrated into the meals-to-go and Farm to School has been helping to locate local produce to suit those requirements. We've put both full portions and taste test experiences into the to-go format. The partnership between Farm to School and FCPS has helped the following farm fresh local foods find their way to FCPS students: cherry tomatoes from Meadow Run farm, carrots from A Piece of Harmony, peppers from Chocolates and Tomatoes Farm, radishes from Pleasant Hill Produce, lunchbox peppers from Dandelion and Rust Farm, cauliflower from Catoctin Mountain Orchard, and butternut squash from Summer Creek Farm.

We will keep working to make Farm to School a success in this modified environment and hope to bring positive experiences with local food to the students in whatever learning environment they find themselves.

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