May 12, 2010

As people continue to learn about the benefits of locally grown food, the demand for it increases. Specialists with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service are partnering with schools, producers and state and local agencies to get locally grown foods added to school menus.

The group is hosting a free webinar on the subject from 3 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. EDT May 26.  It is open to the public.

Other partners participating in the webinar include the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Kentucky Action for Healthy Kids, Partnership for a Fit Kentucky and Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

"This is a great opportunity for Kentucky schools and farmers to act together to strengthen local food systems and help kids eat healthier school meals," said Janet Mullins, UK associate extension professor in nutrition and food science. 

Mullins is just one of UK's extension specialists who are working with programs in four counties that have or are developing farm-to-school programs. Each program is designed to meet the county's unique needs.

In Montgomery County, Peggy Powell, family and consumer sciences extension agent, serves on a nutrition council with other local partners. The council has been able to introduce locally grown products into the public school system. In addition, Powell works with the local health department to present several nutrition education activities in the schools including the Literacy, Eating and Activity for Preschoolers (LEAP) program. Through LEAP, she and other community partners help participating families increase their intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and local farmers increase their sales.

Jeff Henderson, Jackson County agriculture and natural resources extension agent, is working with the nonprofit group Alternative Agriculture of Appalachia of Jackson County to build a food processing center that's scheduled to open this summer. Local producers can use the center to add value to their products, which will increase their marketability in the community. In addition, they've developed a partnership with Kentucky State University so producers can regularly use their mobile processing unit.

"We know that local schools, groceries and prisons want to use local foods, but they need to be packaged in a way that meets their needs," Henderson said. "We hope to accomplish that with this program."

Powell and Henderson are just two of the presenters who will share information about the farm-to-school program. Others include representatives from Action for Healthy Kids, the Southeast Regional Lead for the National Farm to School Network, Montgomery County Public Schools, Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Department of Public Health.  

They will explain how a local farm-to-school initiative can increase access to locally grown, nutrient-rich foods, contribute to local economic development, how to start a local program and improve children's health and knowledge of agriculture.

Participants can listen or watch live through the Internet. Preregistration is necessary. Those interested can register at https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/633188947.