WEST CALDWELL, NJ – During the annual week dedicated to showcasing schools and a farm that are examples of how connecting local produce and schools increases student consumption of healthy school meals, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) visited Essex County Vocational Technical School in West Caldwell.

NJDA Food and Nutrition Division Director, Rose Tricario, and Farm To School coordinator, Beth Feehan, visited the school last week in celebration of the seventh annual Jersey Fresh Farm To School Week, which was designated as the last week of each September by a law signed in 2010 by Governor Christie.

Thanks to the Jersey Fresh Farm to School program, Tricario said students in schools around the state are eating more fresh local produce, growing their own fruits and vegetables in school gardens, and learning about healthy choices.

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“Students at West Caldwell vocational school and all across New Jersey are benefiting greatly by studying about the importance of our state's agriculture industry,” Tricario said. “Additionally, they are enjoying what our farmers produce, along with what grows in their own garden."

Essex County Vocational School contracts with Maschio’s Food Service, a company that embraces Farm to School. Maschio’s purchases fresh produce from local farms to include in school lunches.

The day featured a tour of the school garden, a demonstration by the culinary arts students and a visit to the school cafeteria during lunch.

"It is wonderful that fresh local produce is incorporated into the cafeteria menu providing our students with healthy meals,” said Principal Ayisha Ingram-Robinson. “This is a great way to enhance our partnership with Maschio's and the community. The Farm to School program also allows our culinary students the ability to be creative with recipes and menus. We love that they can use Jersey Fresh produce and share it with our students and faculty.”

According to the principal, the culinary students often make menu items available at lunch, such as wraps and salads. The school’s website posts a monthly Farm To School calendar that features agricultural history and highlights activities throughout the month.

The school also participated in the “Jersey Tastes!” kickoff by having a tomato-tasting day on Tuesday. Jersey Tastes! features a different fruit or vegetable each month.

West Caldwell’s Farm To School program is led by Dan Delcher, an Agricultural Science teacher who oversees the school’s garden. Delcher, a former State FFA President, also serves as advisor for the ECVTS-West Caldwell Tech FFA Chapter.

“It’s great to see our students accomplish so much on their own initiative,” Delcher said. “They have consistently shown the ability to see a project through from the very beginning up to completion. It makes me proud to be a part of the school.”

The Essex County Vocational Technical School of Technology, ranked as one of five U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools in the U.S. in 2016, a program that recognizes schools that exercise a comprehensive approach to creating “green” environments through reducing environmental impact, promoting health, and ensuring a high-quality environmental and outdoor education to prepare students with 21st century skills and sustainability concepts needed in the growing global economy.

The school offers programs for Essex County high school students, including Career and Technical Education Academies, and Share Time Programs. For additional information, visit the school’s website at www.essextech.org

For more information on the New Jersey Farm to School Program, visit www.farmtoschool.nj.gov.