School Gardens a Growing Trend

By Barbara Nissel

Several years ago, the Great Valley School ZDistrict Food Service Department became an active member of a registered Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture program called “Buy Local, Buy Fresh.” We viewed participation in the program as a way to move away from serving commercially processed foods in our cafeterias and to move closer to serving more fresh food.

Like other districts throughout Pennsylvania and the country, we share a concern about the increasing levels of childhood obesity and about processed foods that are often laden with chemicals and additives. “Buy Local, Buy Fresh” seemed like a wonderful initiative. However, we soon found that buying fruits and vegetables locally is often very difficult, if not impossible. Small regional farmers produce enough for their contracted large canning and freezing operations, but not for local, small end users.

Great Valley School District is a suburban district about 20 miles southwest of Philadelphia, with approximately 4,500 students.

The fresh food, when it was obtainable, always cost more, and we were required to do our own pickup. Because our department—like many food service departments—is expected to pay for itself, these challenges were considerable prohibiting factors for us.

Despite the challenges of the “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” initiative, we were able to operate a modest Secondary Farmer’s Market in our middle school and high school cafeterias. That allowed students to sample menu items that we were able to offer through collaboration with local farmers’ markets.

Students sampled muffins made from zucchini, tasted jicama, and enjoyed vegetable lasagna. We quickly learned that students not only had a very limited repertoire of acceptable fruits and vegetables, but they also had no idea of how their food was grown or prepared.

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