CFISD’s farm to school program named ‘One in a Melon’

May 26, 2016

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The CFISD food service department, which purchases mushrooms from Kitchen Pride in Gonzales, Texas, was recently named the “One in a Melon” winner by the USDA for administering an exemplary farm to school program. 

May 26, 2016—The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Food and Nutrition Service recently awarded Cypress-Fairbanks ISD a “One in a Melon” award for administering an exemplary farm to school program. Only one school district in each state was selected for the award by receiving the most public nominations.

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Tomatoes like these at CFISD’s food production warehouse are shipped to the district from Village Farms in Marfa, Texas. 

From March 15-April 15, parents, teachers, community stakeholders and students were invited to visit USDA’s Farm to School Census website and nominate their favorite farm to school program to receive the award. According to the census, a total of 5,254 districts participate across the nation.

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Students at Sampson Elementary School display carrots picked from one of the school gardens through the school gardening program, coordinated by Stephanie Baker of Ready to Grow Gardens. Sampson was one of the two original schools, along with Sheridan Elementary School, to pilot the school gardening program in 2002.

“We are honored to be named the ‘One in a Melon’ school district for the state of Texas,” said Darin Crawford, director of food service. “The voting results demonstrate that the Cy-Fair community has a great deal of interest in making sure that our district utilizes local products. We consistently work with our produce companies to identify local items that are fresh, affordable, and consistent with our menu specifications.”

Some of the Texas produce products currently used by CFISD’s food service department include:

  • tomatoes from Village Farms (Marfa, Texas);
  • mushrooms from Kitchen Pride (Gonzales, Texas);
  • watermelons from Double H (Edinburg and Snook, Texas); and
  • blueberries from Top of Texas Marketing (East Texas).

“Cy-Fair looks forward to continuing to expand and highlight our selection of local products,” Crawford said. “In addition to our local produce buys, we also serve hundreds of thousands of gallons of milk and tons of flour each year that are produced by farmers in our region.”

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Keith Elementary School fifth-grade student Joshua Wagner displays a carrot picked from the school garden. The Keith garden is expected to expand in 2016-2017.

Farm to school programs help students form healthy habits, learn where their food comes from and develop an understanding of the importance of nutrition and agriculture. Results of the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census show that schools with robust farm to school programs report reductions in food waste, higher school meal participation rates and increased willingness of the students to try new foods, notably fruits and vegetables.

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Watermelons are showcased at the school garden at Keith Elementary School. Ready to Grow Gardens’ garden curriculum is active at 11 CFISD elementary schools. 

Census results also show that U.S. schools invested nearly $800 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and food processors and manufacturers in the 2013- 2014 school year, which is money going directly back into local communities. 

CFISD also has a thriving school garden program, launched in 2002 by CFISD parent Stephanie Baker. Baker’s company, Ready to Grow Gardens, manages gardens and provides professional garden education at 11 CFISD elementary schools. She also consulted, installed and planted the new school garden at Hamilton Middle School, which launched a farm-to-table program in 2015-2016.

Including other Houston-area schools, Baker has started 21 farm to school projects since 2002, when she worked with former Sheridan and Sampson principals Carla Brosnahan and Cindy O’Brien to pilot the program at two schools.

“The CFISD schools I work with are so much fun to work with because the principals, teachers, parents and students are so enthusiastic about their farm to school programs,” said Baker, who plans to expand the school gardens at Swenke and Keith elementary schools in 2016-2017. “Working with the CFISD food service department is very exciting. I have met with their team and we have plans for coordinating fruits and veggies of the month to connect what is growing in the school garden with what is being served in the cafeteria.

“Students always want to know if what we grow in the garden is what is served at lunch,” Baker added. “Working together we will be making more connections for students which will enhance the program even further.”

More information on the USDA farm to school program is available at http://www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/farm-school

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