Farm is part of effort to offer schools fresh, local items
By John-John Williams IV | Standing amid rows of lush, multicolored vegetables, Jeanette Orrey of England basked in the sunlight drawn to the main greenhouse of the Baltimore school system’s Great Kids Farm at the Bragg Nature Center. She ate a handful of leafy sprouts, urged on by her enthusiastic tour guide. She shook her head with approval.
“This is how every school system in the States should be,” Orrey said. The former school lunch employee-turned-advocate was among a group of six who visited the school system Wednesday to learn more about the city’s efforts to provide school lunches made of fresh, local organic foods. In addition to Baltimore, the group’s tour includes schools in New York City and Arlington County in Virginia. “My goal is that no child will go hungry and that the next generation will have an idea where their food comes from and how it is produced,” said Orrey, who has led her nation’s efforts to provide local, organic foods in schools.
Tony Geraci, director of food and nutrition services for Baltimore schools, served as the group’s tour guide of the 33-acre farm equipped with several greenhouses, a number of honey-producing beehives, 50 chickens and six goats. In the less than two years since the farm has opened, Geraci and his staff have transformed the former orphanage into a self-sustaining organic farm with the potential to become the home of an “agri-hospitality” charter school.
Farm to School programs:
- Help farmers access new markets
- Provide students with healthful, local food
- Keep dollars circulating locally
- Help fight the growing childhood obesity epidemic
More than 2,000 students have visited the farm. In addition, fruit and vegetables grown there have been used to support 25 families with food, according to Geraci, and six local restaurants purchase produce from the site. Since Geraci took the job two years ago, he has made a major push to offer organic, locally grown foods in city schools and launched “meatless Mondays,” which encourages students to include more fruit and vegetables in their diets. Geraci also hopes to convert a former Pulaski Highway warehouse into a 37,000-square-foot central kitchen where cooks can prepare local foods and then ship them to school cafeterias for final heating and assembly. The project is expected to cost $3 million.
The visitors were exposed to another of Geraci’s planned initiatives when they ate lunch prepared in part by hospitality students at Edmondson-Westside High School. Eventually, Geraci hopes that the students will be able to cook meals using foods grown at the farm.
“I think there is a huge problem with the disconnection between children and food and where it comes from. I think that Tony is trying to address that with the children and the whole community,” said Orrey, whose visit was sponsored by Animal Welfare Approved, an Alexandria, Va.-based group that monitors family farmers who raise animals and have high standards for the animals’ welfare.
Orrey and the other guests gushed over the lunch prepared by the students. It was Orrey’s first time eating cornbread. Noelle Bright, a 16-year-old junior at the school, said she would enjoy cooking with products grown locally. “I think it’s better,” she said. “It just has a better texture. It’s fresh.”
Copyright © 2010, The Baltimore Sun
In May, legislators passed changes that will enable more schools to buy food from local farmers, cook fresh meals, teach healthy eating, and plant school gardens. Wisconsin-based Organic Valley has been a huge supporter of this legislation and explains the significance of this legislation in their monthly newsletter Rootstock: “This is an enormous opportunity for families and for farmers. Helping more schools serve healthy, local food would be a major step forward towards a future where everyone can enjoy food that’s good for us, good for the planet and good for the farmers who produce it.” Slow Food USA’s Time for Lunch campaign website (www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/campaign/time_for_lunch/) makes it easy for you to email your legislators and learn what can be done right in your own neck of the woods.
Learn more about other Wisconsin and national efforts:
- www.farmtoschool.org – the national Farm to School site
- Farm to School connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers.
- www.reapfoodgroup.org – Research, Education, Action & Policy on Food Group is a non-profit organization located in Madison
- www.cias.wisc.edu/economics/great-lakes-region-farm-to-school-program-network/ – Great Lakes Region Farm to School Networkwww.farmtoschool.org/state-programs.php?action=detail&id=12&pid=59 – Information on the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch Group
- http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/food_fight_round_1/ – Seed Magazine has started a very interesting series of debates focused on food production. They ask the question: What does “sustainable agriculture” truly mean—and what should it look like? Visit this site where two experts square off on the true causes of food insecurity.