District field-tests new farm-to-school project

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After several years of dreaming, planning and hard work, a new initiative is under way that sends fresh produce straight from local farms to school district cafeterias.

The district partnered with Sodexo and the Gullah Farmers Co-op to establish a farm-to-school program that meets all federal requirements and offers produce in school lunch lines that was in local fields just three days before.  Sodexo is the private contractor that operates the district’s food service program.

The first crop to go directly from local fields and into students’ mouths was collard greens, which are currently in season. Coming next will be broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes, cantaloupe and cucumbers.

Three years in the making, the farm-to school initiative aims to benefit the students by providing them with lower-sodium, less-processed lunches — something that the 17 local farmers in the Gullah Farmer Co-op are able to supply.

Historically, school cafeterias across the nation have relied heavily on canned foods because of their long shelf life, which makes planning meals easier.  Although using fresh foods makes logistics more complicated, the benefits to students is undeniable.

“There are many reasons to create this kind of project, starting with the fact that fresh vegetables are generally healthier than processed foods,” said Superintendent Jeff Moss. “We’re fortunate to live near hundreds of acres of farmland, and there’s no doubt about the  nutritional value of local farmers’ crops to the growing minds and bodies of our students.”

The school district’s initial field-testing of the new system will be in schools on Lady’s Island and St. Helena Island.  But as the picking, cleaning and delivering of crops is fine-tuned, the program will expand to other schools.