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Students in Kanawha County take part in Farm to School Program

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Students across Kanawha County took part in the West Virginia Department of Education's Farm to School program Oct. 16.

McKinley Middle School in St. Albans, W.Va. served as the host school for the countrywide Farm to School Celebration. Students, local farmers, county school leaders and others will took part in the event.

Three years ago the WVDE hired a full-time F2S coordinator to work around the state, provided grants to agricultural education programs to enhance onsite growing projects, funded student farmers through entrepreneurial grants and provided incentives for counties to purchase local products. The success of the program is based on partnerships with county school system food service directors, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, the West Virginia University Cooperative Extension-Small Farm Center, the New Appalachia Farm and Research Center and Collaborative for 21st Century Appalachia.

"After years of building the foundation of F2S in West Virginia, the initiative is taking off statewide," Richard Goff, Office of Child Nutrition executive director, said. "Now food service directors have confidence that there will be product available for purchase and farmers trust that there is a true market for their product."

 Diane Miller, the food service director, has been networking with more farmers every growing season. Some schools are receiving almost 25 percent of their weekly produce needs for their garden bars from the F2S program.

The WVDE F2S program has been in place for three years with participation from 30 county school systems.

F2S facts include: $350,000 spent on local products in West Virginia schools in 2012-2013, local foods for schools purchased by 30 counties last year, 13 agricultural education programs funded, 16 schools funded with $2,000 start-up grants from United States Department of Agriculture Team Nutrition funds, more than 60 students funded with entrepreneurial grants to start their own farming business, the WVDE sponsoring 10 AmeriCorps members with funding from the Benedum Foundation to help counties around the state with their farm to school efforts and three regional AmeriCorps starting to build capacity in counties that have not been able to connect with local farmers.