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Farm to School Week brings local foods to county students

(Sept. 27, 2013) Worcester Country joined in the statewide Farm to School Week this week, dishing up local fruits or vegetables in school lunches every day.

The program isn’t unique to the week, though, as the schools try to source local foods throughout the growing season, coordinator of Food Services for Worcester County Schools Scott Blackburn said.

“We’ve been pretty aggressive on trying to order foods from local farmers,” he said.

The program started about five years ago with a two-fold goal: “to help promote healthier foods and giving local people business,” Blackburn said.

The county has used two local farmers for the program, though only one participated this year. To make up the loss, the schools partnered with an Easton produce provider that sources “as much local as they can,” Blackburn said.

This week’s locally grown menu included watermelon, corn, apples, tomatoes and a roasted squash medley using yellow squash, zucchini and butternut squash and onions.

However, as the fall wears on, local produce become less available.

“It’s easier to produce in the summer,” when school is out, said Berlin-area farmer Harry Wimbrow, who provided watermelon and sweet corn last year. “The items that they wanted are almost out of seasons once they want them.”

The schools will use sweet potatoes in dishes once each week or two during October, but Blackburn agreed, “once December hits, it’s pretty much exhausted as far as local, local produce.”

Another challenge is finding GAP — Good Agricultural Practices — approved farms. The USDA grades those farms, ensuring they meet certain criteria.

“It’s a safeguard for us,” Blackburn said, but “that limits, again, the number of farmers because it’s expensive… for the farmers to become GAP approved.”

Despite those pitfalls, the program has “grown tremendous” compared with his original expectations, Blackburn said.

“We’re just trying to work with the local people and provide… good-quality, fresh produce to our schools as much as possible,” Blackburn said.

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