The Chatham Farm to School Committee, comprised of parents, teachers and administrators in the School District of the Chathams, in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and the Mayor’s Wellness Councils of Chatham Borough and Chatham Township, announces the start of a Farm to School Initiative.
The program aims to bring New Jersey produce to the school district cafeterias, and to educate about the importance of eating local fruits and vegetables.
In September, the Chatham Borough Council and Township Committee each issued proclamations praising the Chatham Farm to School Committee, which was started in 2015. In the past year, the Committee helped in creating the school food garden at the Middle School, and supported the vertical indoor garden at Lafayette School, as well as the continued integration of the outdoor food gardens of Lafayette School, Chatham High School, and Milton Avenue School with the cafeteria food service, run by Chartwells.
“Chartwells is embracing Farm to School with us,” said Deepa Patel, Co-Chair of the Chatham Farm to School Committee. “With our encouragement, in conjunction with other PTO committees, Chartwells introduced a new salad bar at the high school.” Chartwells is also participating in the district-wide local Vegetable of the Month program by featuring a local vegetable on the menu each month.
In addition, Southern Blvd School and Washington Ave School are in the process of creating sensory gardens through parent volunteers on the Farm to School Committee and the K-12 Science supervisor. Parents at Milton Ave School started a food garden a few years ago with a Whole Foods grant, and are also participating in the Farm to School Month activities.
This October, for the first time, the School District of the Chathams will participate in National Farm to School Month, which celebrates fresh, healthy foods with school children across the country. Congress declared October National Farm to School Month in 2010, and recognized the important role Farm to School programs play in promoting well-being among children and in promoting strong local economies.
October Farm to School Month celebrations include school garden activities, Vegetable of the Month activities, art contests, physical education activities and cooking demonstrations. Children will also sample vegetables grown in various Chatham school gardens and/or locally procured as prepared by Chartwells Chef Aaron Hairston and Chef Amy Curry.
Over the past decade, the farm to school movement has exploded across the United States, reaching millions of students in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. From school gardens and farm field trips to serving local food on cafeteria trays, Farm to School practices help children learn about where food comes from and how to make healthier food choices while also promoting local procurement.
“Farm to school is an important tool in the fight against childhood obesity and food insecurity,” said Anupama Joshi, Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network. “There are economic benefits as well. During the 2012 school year, local food purchases by schools returned more than $385 million back to local economies”. Farm to School programs not only boost economic development but also create learning opportunities for students in all grades. Students who are learning to grow tomatoes, kale and squash in school gardens, watch weather forecasts, study how plants use photosynthesis to grow, research the environmental effects of fertilizers, how fruits and vegetables impact health and more. Students who consume more fresh fruits and vegetables enter the classroom better prepared to learn, more engaged in school activities and have better school performance. Students learn that fresh food not only tastes better but is better for you.
For more information about the Farm to School program in the School District of the Chathams, please contact Kathy Abbott or Deepa Patel, Co Chairs, Chatham Farm to School Committee, at chatham.F2S@gmail.com