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Posted: May 1, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Farm to provide strawberries to schools

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Students are now seeing a new option in their school-provided meals: fresh, locally grown strawberries.
Mitcham Farm, a family owned and operated farm located in Oxford is continuing its practice, which began in 2011, of supplying the Newton County School System (NCSS) with strawberries as part of school breakfasts and/or lunches during May.

“Offering locally grown produce as part of school meals supports local farmers, and it allows students to enjoy flavorful produce that is often harvested in-season and has only traveled a short distance from where it was grown,” said Brittany Bingeman, NCSS School Nutrition Program wellness coordinator, in an email. “Identifying locally grown items on school menus provides an opportunity to educate students about the healthfulness of fruits and vegetables, which will hopefully encourage them to try these nutritious foods.”

A NCSS press release stated that, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), offering fresh, locally grown produce on school breakfast and lunch menus us considered one of several types of “Farm to School” activities that have the potential to positively impact local farmers, the local economy and students’ eating habits.

The release went on to say a recent review of the effectiveness of “Farm to school” initiatives found a majority of students made healthier selections when offered more fruit and vegetables, especially when the produce was offered in-season and was locally grown and students were educated about the produce provided.

Strawberries are a nutritious choice for students, the release said. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and contain dietary fiber, folate and potassium. And, like many other fruits and vegetables, strawberries also contain special compounds called phytochemicals, or plant chemicals. These chemicals protect the plant against environmental hazards and may protect humans against heart disease and certain types of cancer.

In recent years, school nutrition programs across the county have begun including produce grown locally, whether in-state or in surrounding states, on school menus. Serving this option, the release said, allows students to experience produce at its most flavorful, which is when it is harvested in-season and transported a shorter distance from the farm to the school cafeteria.

Serving locally grown produce also provides opportunities to educate students about the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables, as well as the origin of their food.

This school year, the NCSS School Nutrition Program offered locally grown Vidalia onions, watermelon, cucumbers, green peppers, apples and sweet potatoes to students during meals. The release said when offered, sings highlighting the produce, including interesting facts and nutrition information, were posted on cafeteria serving lines and the NCSS School Nutrition Program website.

For more information or references, contact Brittany Bingeman at bingeman.brittany@newton.k12.ga.us or (770) 784-4966.

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