Summerville, SC - Dorchester District Two and Ashley Ridge High School are pleased to announce that the school’s farm to school program is one of 65 projects spanning 42 states and Puerto Rico receiving support this year through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm to School Grant Program. The purpose of this competitive national grant program is to better connect school cafeterias and students with local farmers and ranchers. Ashley Ridge High received a $74,540 implementation grant to impact 26,000 students in 24 schools in Dorchester District Two.
“Increasing the amount of local foods in America’s schools is a win-win for everyone,” U. S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Perdue said. “Our children benefit from the fresh, local food served in their meals at school, and local economies are nourished, as well, when schools buy the food they provide close to home.”
“The funding of this grant shows further support for the educational opportunities we are providing through our agricultural education program,” said Ben Gibson, Ashley Ridge agriculture teacher and grant trustee. “We are looking to re-define Farm to School by not only being the consumers, but by being the educational producers as well. We want the agriculture students to know that they are helping to feed not only themselves, but also their community through their daily educational pursuits in this program. Receiving this funding will allow us to complete in a matter of months, what would have taken 3 to 4 years to accomplish. The students of our program and all of Dorchester District Two are the true winners, as these students will have this experience firsthand now, rather than further in the future.”
Dorchester School District Two will use the grant implementation funds to expand and improve 5 acres at Fox Farm located at Ashley Ridge High School, thus increasing the amount of sourcing to 24 school cafeterias, expanding services to culinary arts, and supporting the snack meals for the 21st Century Community Center afterschool programs. Grant funds will be used to lease a tractor which will allow Fox Farm to start Phase Two of its farm expansion to increase overall production on 2-5 additional acres. Moreover, this project will help the grant-funded program “Fox Box” to support student stipends for summer jobs and become a model for school-based Farm To School programs nationwide. Project partners include Clemson Extension, Steen Enterprises, Limehouse Produce, YMCA of Summerville, Boeing-SC, College of Charleston, Dorchester District Two Food Service Program, National FFA, and Ashley Ridge High School’s staff, teachers, and students. Fox Farm will engage students in all phases of farming that will include planting, keeping, harvesting, cleaning, and delivering. Students will also be involved in marketing the program and developing communications and promotions involving newsletters, taste-testings, appearances at the Azalea Festival, field days, and “Back To School Events.”
According to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, schools with strong farm to school programs report higher school meal participation, reduced food waste, and increased willingness of the students to try new foods, notably fruits and vegetables. In addition, in school year 2013-2014 alone, schools purchased more than $789 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers. Nearly half (47 percent) of these districts plan to purchase even more local foods in future school years.
In addition to school meals, USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers several other nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (Commonly known as WIC), and the Summer Food Service Program. Together, these programs comprise America's nutrition safety net. For more information, visit www.fns.usda.gov. Farm to school is one of many ways USDA supports local and regional food systems, and the Local Food Compass Map showcases the federal investments in these efforts.