Delaware, the Diamond State: Thomas Jefferson gave this nickname to Delaware, according to legend, because he described Delaware as a "jewel" among states, due to its strategic location on the eastern seaboard. Farm to school is truly a diamond. If you look at farm to school programs as one facet of the diamond, you see the many health benefits they provide to children facing epidemics of obesity and chronic diseases. Through another facet, you see the educational contributions of farm to school programs shine through, as they put an important face on food, teaching children about nutrition, agriculture and the environment. Turn the diamond to another facet, you find economic opportunities for family farmers and food security in areas that might not otherwise have access to fresh fruits, vegetables and other farm products. Just polish the diamond a little more and you see the bright facet of school gardens that make the diamond sparkle. There are so many facets of farm to school, which is why these programs are so important to the country, and the most precious jewels, our children.
Farm to school efforts in Delaware are supported by a variety of nonprofit, for-profit and government organizations, including the state’s agriculture and education departments. The first farm to school program in Delaware began in 2007 in the Woodbridge School District as an initiative of the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Delaware and Nemours Health and Prevention Services. Since then, every public school district in Delaware has participated in farm to school programming, through statewide celebrations of locally grown produce, such as Strawberry Week and Watermelon Wednesdays. Every public school district's food service is run by its own nutrition supervisor. These supervisors have been willing and able to help lead the Delaware Farm to School Program by offering more seasonal fruits and vegetables at their schools as part of the National School Lunch Program and Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Seasonal variety includes: peaches, watermelons, apples, strawberries, string beans, lima beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, sweet potatoes, asparagus, butternut squash, acorn squash, apple cider, pumpkins, micro greens, herbs and spices.
Farm tours for child nutrition supervisors and the Dept. of Education are conducted to increase awareness of the farm to school possibilities and familiarize school food professionals with the state’s farming community, and vice versa. Additionally, Delaware’s Department of Agriculture supports an annual buyer/grower meeting to bring farmers, grocery stores, wholesalers and others together to build relationships. In 2013, Colonial School District was selected by Partnership for a Healthy America to compete in a national school food cook off at their annual conference in Washington, DC. With help from Iron Chef Jose Garces, Colonial won over the much larger Houston Unified District and chef Ann Burrell (view the competition here).
The Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Delaware has been instrumental in to the success of farm to school in Delaware. The organization holds farm to school workshops at its annual meeting, encouraging producers to get involved both in local communities and across the state. Along with the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, the two groups have led food safety initiatives that benefit farmers and consumers alike.
Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids (HFHK) is the school vegetable gardening expert resource in Delaware, and the state’s only recipient of the inaugural USDA Food and Nutrition Service Farm to School Grant. HFHK’s pilot program started in 2005 at Springer Middle School. HFHK currently serves over 20 Delaware public schools with programs that run during the school day and throughout the school year and support state content standards for science education. HFHK’s K-5 Education Cultivation Program engages everyone in an entire school in growing and eating vegetables every spring and fall. With farm to school grant partners, HFHK recently enhanced their basic program with additional nutrition education, cooking demonstrations and farmer visits to schools. They have also begun to create a Delaware School Vegetable Garden Network. Their long-term goal is to provide garden-based education to all interested Delaware schools. Laurel School District also was awarded a grant to grow their farm to school programming, proving that Delaware’s farm to school programs truly are jewels to be polished and admired.