Locals provide fresh produce
by Rory Doyle
Oct 03, 2012 | 2613 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The fresh aroma of over 3,000 pounds of locally grown baked sweet potatoes will fill the cafeterias of Delta schools this week, thanks to a new movement known as Mississippi Farm to School Week.

With the help of the non-profit organization known as Delta Fresh Foods, students will reap the benefits of the connection between local farms and school cafeterias.

Delta Farm to School Coordinator Ryan Betz said students from the Mound Bayou School District and Coahoma County School District will participate in the program.

"This is about building a network to foster and develop all the pieces — farms, local food, cafeterias and students," said Betz. "It's especially important getting the food service directors from the districts to connect with the farmers so we can have fresh, local products in the schools.

"We're here to help facilitate the correct business procedures to put the pieces together."

Farmer C.W. "Doc" Davis from Quitman County will be providing the potatoes, which will be served twice a week for the net two weeks.

Participating schools have agreed to purchase the sweet potatoes every two weeks for the remainder of October.

Officially, Mississippi Farm to School Week will run until Friday, and is in conjunction with National Farm to School Month.

The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce is partnering with the Mississippi Department of Education to bring this celebration of agriculture to Mississippi schools.

Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Concurrent Resolution 112 into law on May 3 finalizing support of the movement.

Delta Fresh Foods began the local conglomeration in August when it helped Mound Bayou and Coahoma County purchase more than 1,000 pounds of watermelon from local farmer Keith Benson.

While Farm to School Week will come to a close this week, Delta Fresh Foods will continue to forge local networking.

"This week is just the continuation of something we'd like to incorporate year round," said Betz. "We want farmers to know schools can be a reliable market to sell their products.

In addition, the program is an educational tool used to enhance the knowledge of school-aged children on agriculture and healthy eating.

"It's also about educating the kids on where the food is coming from," said Betz. "They should know that not all food is processed food — real food is whole food that is fresh and local.

"We want to expand education-based opportunities, like growing school gardens and taking field trips to farms. The focus will be on classroom curriculum integration."

State Commissioner of Agriculture Cindy Hyde-Smith said in a press release this connection is of utmost importance.

“Recognizing Farm to School Week provides a wonderful opportunity to not only bring attention to the variety of crops grown in Mississippi and the farmers that produce them, it also educates the younger generation on where their food comes from,” said Hyde-Smith. “We are looking forward to celebrating Farm to School Week, and we hope that others take time to recognize this week as well.”

Betz broke down the numbers in relation to Farm to School Week and the overall mission of Delta Fresh Foods.

"The Delta has 29 school districts, close to 100,000 students and 216 schools," he said. "This breaks down to approximately 17 million lunches a year. This is why we need to make it a priority that our children are eating healthy, eating well and getting their food from the Delta."

As fresh seasonal produce changes, Delta Fresh Foods will continue to collaborate with farmers and schools to showcase different Delta foods.

The Delta Fresh Foods Initiative is committed to building sustainable, equitable, community-driven food systems to strengthen the local foods economy and promote healthy lifestyles in the Mississippi Delta.

For more information visit www.deltafreshfoods.org.