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October 18, 2013

Farm to School event to showcase innovative program connecting K-12 schools to better nutrition, ag careers

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University will join state and local officials, educators, nutritionists and business owners for a Thursday (Oct. 24) event at Mintonye Elementary School in Tippecanoe County to promote partnerships between local food producers and schools.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is scheduled to participate in the Indiana Farm to School event, which will coincide with National Food Day and will include student presentations, drawings, artwork and other activities centering on the state program.

A grant benefiting Indiana Farm to School efforts also will be announced at the event, which will run from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mintonye Elementary, a part of the Tippecanoe School Corp., is located at 2000 W. 800 S. off Indiana 231 south of Lafayette.

"This exciting new program for Indiana encourages healthy lifestyles in our children, improving their chances for success in the classroom," said Lisa Kirkham, project coordinator for K-12 programs at the Discovery Learning Research Center in Purdue's Discovery Park. "It also goes beyond the classroom, supporting our local producers and providing a boost for our local economies and creating jobs."

Mintonye principal Rob Skaggs and Lori Shofroth, director of the food service program for Tippecanoe School Corp., are helping Kirkham and the Purdue team organize the event. Representatives of the Indiana departments of Education, Health and Agriculture, as well as Lafayette bakery Great Harvest, Wea Creek Orchard and La Scala restaurant will participate.

Jennifer Dennis, an associate professor of horticulture at Purdue, is leading efforts to develop a program for expanding Farm to School connections throughout Indiana. With a specialty crop block grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Katie Clayton, a food science extension outreach specialist at Purdue, is working to promote new connections between Indiana agriculture producers and schools.

Jill Pritchard, program manager of Diversified Ag and Entrepreneurial Development for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, said Indiana Farm to School also opens the eyes of students to career choices they might not have considered.

"The USDA reports that the average age of a U.S. farmer today is 52 and that opportunities exist for growers of not just corn and soybeans but specialty crops like pumpkins and grapes, not to mention agritourism," she said. "Indiana Farm to School presents a forum for highlighting agriculture as a viable career option, connecting our growers with our students."

Farm to School is designed to connect Indiana K-12 schools and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers.

Kirkham, who also serves as co-chair of the Indiana Farm to School Farm education committee, said the program offers guidance for schools on how to include local products in school meals - breakfast, lunch, classrooms and afterschool snacks and in taste tests.

Farm to Food also provides an educational component, encouraging schools to introduce food-related curriculum development and experiential learning opportunities through school gardens, farm tours, chefs in the classroom, culinary activities, educational sessions for parents and community members, and visits to farmers' markets.

From just a handful of programs in the late 1990s, Farm to School is now operational in more than 10,000 schools spanning all 50 states. To assist its efforts, the National Farm to School Network was founded in 2007 through a yearlong collaborative planning process engaging more than 30 organizations across the country.

Writer: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133, pfiorini@purdue.edu 

Sources: Lisa Kirkham, 765-494-2424, lkirkham@purdue.edu 

Jill Pritchard, 317-800-1700, jpritchard@isda.in.gov