Educators, farmers, and federal, state and local officials gathered with Pangborn Elementary School students in Washington County to kick off the 6th annual Maryland Homegrown School Lunch Week by eating healthy lunches, full of locally-grown fruits, vegetables and beef. Students (and officials) also enjoyed special classroom activities and hands-on outdoor educational activities with farmers. Following lunch, the 150 kindergarten students toured Misty Meadow Farm Creamery in Smithsburg. To draw attention to the connection between healthy food and the local farms that grow it, Governor Martin O’Malley officially designated September 23-27, 2013, as Maryland Homegrown School Lunch Week.
"It is vital that we help our children make the connection between the agriculture industry and what we eat daily. Buying locally is key to ensuring a smart, green and growing future for Maryland families. It preserves farmland, protects the environment, bolsters local economies, and provides wholesome, nutritious, great-tasting fresh food,” said Governor O’Malley. “We are extremely encouraged that all 24 of our public school systems and some private schools are participating in this important, educational program.”
Maryland Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance underscored the importance of Maryland Homegrown School Lunch Week and agricultural education. “This year we have nearly 50 farmers participating in the program. Our goal is to see more local, fresh food in school lunches, not only to improve childhood health but also to help them learn about the importance of our farms to our environment and daily lives. Homegrown School Lunch Week not only provides effective learning activities, it’s also a lot of fun for students and other participants.”
Today, more than 750 students at Pangborn Elementary School in Hagerstown, enjoyed lunches that included tacos made with local beef from Stone Wall Angus Farm, apples and peaches from Rinehart Orchards, bosc pears from Lewis Orchards and zucchini and squash from Houser Produce. Throughout the week, Washington County students will also enjoy Palmyra Farm cheese in the Chesapeake Mac and Cheese, chicken, pears, cantaloupe, green beans, peppers, and tomatoes – all purchased from local farms and Greensburg Farm Produce Company, a local produce supplier.
“Good nutrition is key to academic excellence. During Maryland Homegrown School Lunch Week, we acknowledge the cafeteria as a classroom, where school meals offer students fresh, healthful, and local meals daily,” said State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery.
Prior to lunch, farmers and government officials spoke with about 375 students about the connection between farms and food to enhance student understanding of where their food comes from, how it is produced, and the benefits of a healthy diet. Speakers included Principal Eric Meredith, Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Clayton Wilcox, Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance, Maryland State Department of Education Chief Performance Officer Penelope Thornton Talley, and Maryland Dairy Princess Carol DeBaugh.
Washington County farmers read an agricultural book to each of the classes at Pangborn Elementary School followed by an educational activity and donated the books to the school library. Students also had the opportunity to participate in a petting farm at the school sponsored by the local FFA chapters, talk with farmers about crops and care for animals, and visit the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation’s Food, Fiber and You Mobile Science Classroom. The school is featuring a week-long unit on agriculture and counselors prepared information on careers in agriculture. Kindergarten students also toured Misty Meadows Farm Creamery where they took an educational hayride, learned about animals on the farm and how to make milk into ice cream.
As part of the event, Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association staff talked with students about the importance of starting each day with a nutritious breakfast. Studies show that students who eat breakfast feel better, have a greater focus and can start the day ready to learn. The presentation highlighted the five food groups as outlined in the USDA’s MyPlate program (ChooseMyPlate.gov). Students were treated to ice-cold milk in 1% white, fat-free chocolate and fat-free strawberry flavors, as well as educational handouts and giveaways.
“We are honored to host the statewide kick off for Maryland Homegrown School Lunch program,” said Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Clayton Wilcox. “Agriculture remains a major industry in Washington County, and this program is a wonderful opportunity for us to support our local farmers while encouraging students to eat healthy foods and maintain active lifestyles.”
Washington County Public Schools have observed Maryland Homegrown School Lunch Week since it began in 2008 and have been among the pioneer systems in the state to incorporate fresh, local foods in student lunches – especially with creative, local protein sources (cheese, eggs, chicken, milk, and beef).
This year, other county schools are also highlighting local products throughout the month of September while others are taking it beyond fresh cut fruits and vegetables to create homemade vegetable soup (Kent County Public Schools) or roasted vegetables (Worcester County Public Schools) with local squash. Dorchester County Public School System is working with Chesapeake Gold Oysters, a local aquaculture business, to sample local oysters and demonstration on shucking oysters at Maces Lane Middle School in Cambridge. More details about activities in other counties are available online at: www.marylandfarmtoschool.org.
“We are thrilled to host the statewide kick-off event. This has been a terrific opportunity for collaboration with the Washington County agricultural community,” said Eric Meredith, principal, Pangborn Elementary School. “Today is a great introduction to drive the thematic units surrounding the farm to school elements for this week’s curriculum to better educate our students about where our food comes from and the benefits of a healthy diet.”
Today’s event was made possible through the donations of the local FFA chapters (Boonsboro, Clear Spring, Smithsburg, Washington County Tech High), Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission (EDC), Agricultural Business Development, Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation, Maryland Fair Board, Maryland Grain Utilization Board, Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association, Potomac Farms Dairy, Ridge Runner Magazine, Smith's Implements, Washington County Commissioners, Washington County Farm Bureau, and Washington County AG Expo & Fair.
The Homegrown School Lunch Week, an element of the Jane Lawton Farm to School Program, was created during the 2008 Session of the Maryland General Assembly when SB 158 Farm-to-School Program - Activities and Promotional Events, sponsored by state Senator Jamie Raskin and state Delegate Sheila Hixson of Montgomery County, was signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley in May, 2008.
More information about Maryland’s Farm to School program, including educational materials, menus, places to find local products, brief video soundbook with photos and interviews, plus much more for parents, teachers, and food service staff, visit: www.marylandfarmtoschool.org. For information on the school meals programs, visit: www.eatsmartmaryland.org. More on the benefits of buying local is available online at: http://mda.maryland.gov/farm_to_school/Documents/buylocalbenefits.pdf.