USDA Farm to School Grant Program Launched at Southern High
United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan traveled to Southern High School in Harwood Tuesday, to announce a new “Farm to School” grant program. VIPs from the Maryland State Agriculture and Education departments were on hand as well as county school officials.
Southern was chosen for the announcement site because of its agriculture science studies curriculum, where students learn the science of plants and animals. Their new greenhouse and agriculture science lab provides opportunities for hands-on learning.
Merrigan said that the USDA will be accepting grant applications to help further the goal of bringing more local foods into schools. The funds will go for training and technology.
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In a press release that accompanied the event, Merrigan said:
“School cafeterias are great places to champion U.S. agriculture and to teach students where their food comes from. More and more, schools are connecting with their local farmers, ranchers and food businesses each day and these programs are a great way to bring more local offerings into school cafeterias and support U.S. producers as well. As we struggle with obesity and associated diet-related diseases, farm to school programs give us one important tool to help our kids make lifelong healthy eating choices.”
Maryland State Agriculture Secretary Buddy Vance said that Maryland is trying to get some kind of local food on the school lunch menu in all 24 jurisdictions in the state.
“We can save money and energy by not hauling [food] all over,” he said, adding that he wanted to see more small producers participating in the farm to schools program.
The morning announcement from Merrigan included a tour of the ag-science parts of the school building. Things started out in the greenhouse where vegetable plants and flower baskets were lined up in neat rows.
Principal Patricia Plitt said that students in classes from home economics to science use the greenhouse. In addition, a recent renovation to the science classroom has given students opportunities to test out theories about plants, soil and technology.
Dr. Josh Rice teaches agriculture science. He has students test soil for pH and nutrients with the kind of advanced equipment that farmers and extension offices use. He said that giving the students the hands-on learning opportunities is great for getting them involved, even when they don’t get it right.
“Sometimes getting the lab wrong is just as good a lesson as getting the answer right,” Rice said.
As a teacher, his approach is not to lecture students, but to let them do the labs and come up with the answers themselves.
“Then we have the discussion,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kevin Maxwell was also on site for the morning tour. He talked about his own time as an agricultural science teacher in Prince George’s County and how he felt personally connected to the work that students are undertaking.
Southern also announced that it had rechartered the Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter at the school.
Jennifer Moreland is an FFA member and an ag-science student. She said that the class has taught her that agriculture is a lot more than just farming.
After the tour, the VIPs were then taken to lunch in the school cafeteria, where a spread of fresh vegetables and fruits awaited.
To learn more about the USDA’s Farm to School grant program, visit the USDA online. The letter of intent deadline is May 18. Proposals are due in June and money is disbursed Oct. 1.