May 3, 2000 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Federal, state and local leaders joined with Kentucky's agricultural professionals May 1 at the Cincinnati Bengal's training camp for a day-long workshop focused on the farm-to-school initiative. The initiative is working to bring locally grown products to local schools. The program would benefit the schools by allowing fresher items on school lunch menus and benefit the farmers by opening up a new market.

Kentucky hopes to join North Carolina, California and Florida, which already have begun successful farm-to-school programs, in a progressive effort to create a beneficial relationship between schools and agriculture.

The primary goal of the farm-to-school initiative is to help states establish local production, processing and distribution arrangements to allow farmers to sell fresh produce to local schools. The initiative also will focus on fostering healthier meals in school systems, establishing better times for student meals, developing programs to establish gardens and bringing nutrition education classes into every school.

United States Department of Agriculture, Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, Michael Dunn delivered a keynote address to an overflow crowd at the Mayday meeting.

"The USDA is committed to developing and implementing programs that recognize the importance of small farms, and that will help small farmers build on their strengths and equip them to compete successfully," Dunn said. "The USDA will continue to strive to help small farmers identify and take advantage of marketing opportunities and strategies that will ensure their survival and help them grow." Dewayne Ingram, horticulture department chair for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture gave an overview of Kentucky horticulture. He emphasized that the horticulture industry touches every Kentuckian, everyday.

"The horticulture industry is characterized by expanding markets," Ingram said. "It will play a major role in diversification of Kentucky agriculture, although it is not the only opportunity for diversification."

Ingram added that Kentucky producers will need focused management of time and resources to make the initiative work.

The beginning phase of the farm-to-school initiative is educating the individuals, companies, school leaders, etc. that will be involved about the program and how to get started.

Producers who attended the meeting are excited about having a new market for their products.

"I think we need to be able to get into every market in Kentucky," Mark Haney, Pulaski County producer, said. "This initiative is a real opportunity for small growers in the state, who maybe have limited abilities to do a good effective marketing plan. This is something they can really participate in and at the same time, we're really doing something good for a healthy nutritious lunch for our students. We want to make everyone realize that we're all in this together."

For more information about Kentucky's farm-to-school initiative contact Bonnie Tanner at 859-257-3887.