Walnut Ridge, December 3, 2014 – The Lawrence County Farm to School (F2S) team is pleased to announce that they are one of 82 projects spanning 42 states and the Virgin Islands receiving support this year through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm to School Program, an effort to better connect school cafeterias and students with local produce, farmers, and ranchers. Walnut Ridge High School, Hoxie High School, and Sloan-Hendrix High School, working together as the Lawrence County Farm to School Project, received a $100,000 implementation grant to impact over 1000 students across three school districts. According to Bob Bell, (Little Rock) grant writer on this project, “this grant fulfills the hard work undertaken by the F2S planning team”. In 2013, the team was awarded a planning grant of $45,000.

“USDA is proud to support communities across the country as they plan and implement innovative farm to school projects,” said USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Community partners are coming together to ensure a bright and healthy future for students, and local farmers and ranchers. These inspiring collaborations create long-term benefits for students, as they develop a meaningful understanding of where food comes from, and support our farmers and ranchers by expanding market opportunities for local and regional foods.”

USDA Farm to School grants help schools respond to the growing demand for locally sourced foods and increase market opportunities for producers and food businesses, including food processors, manufacturers, and distributors. Grants will also be used to support agriculture and nutrition education efforts such as school gardens, field trips to local farms, and cooking classes.

Terry Belcher, Superintendent of Lawrence County Schools commented, “I am excited about the Farm to School grant program. Construction of the greenhouse on our campus will greatly enhance our agricultural program and will also a benefit to the district’s child nutrition program.” The Lawrence County F2S project will use implementation funds to build a greenhouse, raised beds, and tunnel houses on the school campuses. The produce grown will be distributed to the cafeterias to be integrated into the regular school lunch and used in classes to introduce new foods to students. Teacher will use the growing opportunity to introduce science standards and service learning to the students. “The team has been working since 2012 to bring this project to the schools. The planning and ground work has been established. Now, we are ready to begin growing and providing the cafeterias with fresh produce” commented Rhonda Fowler, Career and Technical Education Coordinator at N
Arkansas Education Cooperative. Terry Rorex, project manager and former Black Rock agriculture teacher, will be coordinating the efforts of the three campuses. He will work closely with the agricultural teacher to begin building the structures this winter, so that planting can begin as soon as possible in the spring. “The construction of the greenhouse on the Walnut Ridge campus and the tunnel houses will make it possible to start seedlings early” said Rorex. Terry said he looks forward to working with the schools to get the projects established.

State Representative James Ratliff, stated “The Farm to School Grants are a great opportunity for the local FFA groups to get involved in helping students understand the need for local sources of food in our areas. This puts the students in contact with the local farmers and markets available. I think this is great project and support it for all areas of Agriculture.

USDA is focused on improving childhood nutrition and empowering families to make healthier food choices by providing science-based information and advice, while expanding the availability of healthy food. USDA’s Farm to School Program is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which authorized USDA to provide grants and technical assistance to help schools gain better access to local foods. For a complete list of fiscal year 2015 Farm to School grant recipients, please see: http://www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/grant-awards

Anyone wishing to get involved with the project or needing further information, please contact Rhonda Fowler at the Northeast Arkansas Education Cooperative in Walnut Ridge at 870-886-7717.