WEAKLEY COUNTY (September 24) – When a pandemic keeps young learners off the farm, local advocates are finding ways to bring the farm to them.
The Farm to School Initiative, spearheaded by the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network (NTLFN), has spent a year researching and planning for more opportunities to educate students on the benefits of locally-produced products. On Thursday, they put planning into action and delivered local McIntosh apples from Dixie Chile Ranch Farm in Kenton to all fourth-graders in Weakley County Schools.
“COVID-19 has required so many adjustments this school year and sadly, this means that the fourth-graders won’t be able to participate in the annual Farm Day put on by the Weakley County Young Farmers and Ranchers, Weakley County Farm Bureau and Weakley County Farm Bureau Women,” explained Ashley Kite-Rowland, NTNLFN Director of Research and Community Outreach.
“Due to this, we wanted to do something to link the students with agriculture in our region. Providing local apples to the students is a great way to feature this season’s harvest and to highlight a lesser-known crop produced in our region.”
The Weakley County Schools Nutrition Department, represented on the Farm to School Team by Director Trista Snider, purchased more than 125 apples. Samantha Goyret, NTNLFN Executive Director, and Kite-Rowland made the deliveries to Dresden Elementary, Gleason, Greenfield, Martin Elementary and Sharon schools.
Goyret was dressed for the part when she met Snider at the door of Gleason School. Hat, overalls and a coordinated red bandana/mask sparked smiles from Snider and Principal Lee Lawrence as she explained her mission to “bring the farm” to the fourth-graders.
Dropping in the classrooms of teachers Amy McKenzie and Brittany Bargery, Snider and Goyret distributed bags containing a ready-to-eat apple, an activity sheet with apple facts and a copy of the NTLFN Local Food Guide featuring information on local farms.
“It’s Taste of Tennessee Day!” Goyret enthusiastically exclaimed to the children. Then went on to explain the Farm to School initiative’s mission is “not just about bringing the farm to school or the school to the farm but also education. You can incorporate science, reading, math and even art when learning about agriculture,” she noted.
When asked if they were familiar with farms, several students responded yes. They said their families grew crops such as soybeans and corn, as well as had gardens that included black-eyed peas and tomatoes. Some even shared they had apple trees.
The students then enjoyed the “fruits” of experiential learning by taking big bites of their gifts.
“Whenever we can promote eating fresh fruits and vegetables with our students, we want to do so,” said Snider of the Nutrition Department’s involvement with the Farm to School Initiative. “Whether it’s covering the cost of locally-grown apples, promoting the Harvest of the Month calendars or showing off decorated pumpkins during the upcoming National School Lunch Week in October, we are excited to be a part of the learning process.”
The Farm to School Initiative will be providing pumpkins for a contest by classes. A survey of parents and teachers is also planned in the coming weeks to conclude the plan, which will be submitted to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) for potential funding for later implementation.
Members of the Farm to School team are Goyret, Kite-Rowland, Snider, Bethany Allen, Jason Kemp, Lindsey Parham and Karen Campbell from Weakley County Schools.