Recognizing the importance of adapting and innovating in this challenging time, we're highlighting five new models that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic to promote and support farm to school, farm to early care and education (ECE), and farm to food bank. Read on for  insights, lessons learned, and ideas for new partnership and collaboration that can keep farm to school moving during a time when everything feels like it's changing.

Photo courtesy of Project GROWS

Story Submitted by: Nichole Barrows, Director of Education at Project GROWS in Staunton, Virginia

Project GROWS is an educational, nonprofit organization with a mission to improve the health of children and youth in Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County, Virginia through garden-based education and access to healthy food. With a 10 acre farm producing 12,000+ pounds of food each year, Project GROWS impacts children and families throughout Virginia.

Kids eat their produce at the farm during field trips and summer camps, in school cafeterias year-round, and for special Farm to School Tastings. Individuals and families can find Project GROWS’ produce at the Staunton-Augusta Health Department Farmer’s Market, the Youth-Run Farm Stand at the Boys & Girls Club, or at partner organizations like the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. Over 20 families each year are a part of their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share program, where members pick up seasonal, fresh Project GROWS produce. So, when the pandemic forced schools to close, field trips to be stopped, and summer camps to be canceled there was a need to continue to provide healthy, local food options for children and families.

Project GROWS Food Access Manager, Megan Marshall, assists Staunton City Schools School Nutrition Program in handing out hundreds of meals at Shelburne Middle School.
Photo courtesy of
Project GROWS Facebook

Project GROWS provided on-the-ground logistical support to the Staunton City School Nutrition Program’s meal delivery service to ensure a seamless delivery system to children and families during COVID-19 school closures. Additionally, Project GROWS provided freshly harvested and packaged local produce (spring mix and Hakurei turnips!) from the farm to families through the school’s meal delivery service. To support families in eating local, Project GROWS provided a one pager of nutrition information and weekly recipes for that week’s ingredients.

A photo of the meal kits created and distributed, courtesy of Project GROWS

To continue to support students remotely, Project GROWS established a virtual Harvest of the Month vegetable tasting. Included on the recipe handouts that accompanied the school meals, was a QR code that families used to access an informational video and resources about the vegetable of that month. These resources were available online to download in both English and Spanish.

Megan Marshall, Director of Food Access, shows how to prepare Project GROWS' Turnip Stir-Fry recipe.
Photo courtesy of Project GROWS

By bringing this program into a virtual format for students to view in their homes, Project GROWS hopes to creatively continue their  Farm to School mission of connecting kids to fresh produce and educating them about the farm where it was grown!