EAST MACHIAS, Maine — Last month, 30 people were at the Elm Street School to learn about how the economy, children’s health and even student behavior might benefit from connections between local farms and schools. The Washington County Farm to School Workshop explored the possibilities of schools purchasing more fresh food from local farms, and getting children involved in learning about food.
“It’s about getting children excited about eating fresh and healthy foods,” speaker Anupama Joshi, director of the national Farm to School Network, said in a press release.
According to Joshi, farm-to-school activities such as school gardens and cooking programs with kids can help address food-related health problems such as obesity and diabetes, by significantly increasing children’s fruit and vegetable consumption at an early age, and laying the foundation for a more healthful life.
It’s not just children’s health that benefits from farm to school, said Kevin Athearn, associate professor of natural resource economics at the University of Maine at Machias. An analysis of seven area schools showed that if those schools purchased 50 percent of their food from Washington County farmers and producers, $56,000 of value would be added to the local economy.
In addition, if 10 percent of all Washington County grocery purchases were spent on food from local sources, an additional $3.5 million would be infused into the local economy and approximately 70 additional jobs would be created.
Food grown by students as part of their science classes is also making its way into the cafeteria. Teachers David Finlay from Lubec Consolidated School and Brian Leavitt from Machias Memorial High School presented their innovative programs teaching aquaculture and hydroponics. Former Lubec Superintendent Mike Buckley and School Food Service Director Margaret Urquhart of Lubec Consolidated School described using fresh, student-grown lettuce on their salad bar, and local blueberries.
The next steps for workshop organizers include creating a directory of local farms that are interested in selling to schools, and also inventorying the Washington County crops that are available for schools to purchase.
Interested people are invited to join the next farm to school committee meeting from 3:30 to 5 p.m. today at the Sunrise County Economic Council office on Stackpole Road in Machias.
Farm-to-school efforts in Washington County are being organized by Washington County: One Community, the Down East Business Alliance, Healthy Acadia, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and the Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District, along with farmers and parents and staff from several schools.
For information, contact Eleody Libby, director of Washington County: One Community, at 733-4760.