FRANKFORT – It’s “Crunch Time” in Kentucky as the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) celebrates Farm to School Month throughout October. The month serves to encourage school nutrition staff to connect with local farmers and small businesses to create farm-fresh, nutritious meals for Kentucky students.

During October, KDA is partnering with the Kentucky Department of Education’s Division of School and Community Nutrition to get more Kentucky fresh food products into school cafeterias. Together the two agencies are sponsoring the “Kentucky Crunch” encouraging students, faculty/staff, families, local producers and community members to procure local varieties of their favorite fruits and vegetables, exhibiting the strength and positive impacts of Kentucky’s Farm to School program initiatives on students.

“Kentucky’s farm families grow fresh, nutritious foods all year long, but during the month of October we like to raise awareness about how we connect them to our schools,” Commissioner of Agriculture Dr. Ryan Quarles said. “Our Farm to School program enables local farmers to tap into a local market for their products, while at the same time allowing schools to provide locally-grown food for its students. The KDA’s Farm to School Program is committed to getting fresh, high-quality Kentucky Proud foods into our school systems.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2019 Farm to School Census, more than 68% of Kentucky’s School Food Authorities already procure local foods that are served directly to students through the Child Nutrition Programs across the commonwealth. That 68% equates to 967 schools with 541,992 students receiving locally-sourced food products for the school meals.

Farm to School support is more than putting Kentucky foods on student’s school menus. It also manifests itself through the implementation of food, nutrition and agricultural education, the maintenance of edible school gardens, taste tests within the school, cooking demonstrations, farmer visits and field trips to farms.

The KDA also runs the Junior Chef program, a statewide competition of high school culinary teams. Each “season” concludes with the state tournament in August at the Kentucky State Fair, where regional champions compete for scholarship opportunities at Sullivan University and a coveted skillet trophy.

All of these programs and the Farm to School participation are gaining momentum in Kentucky. Less than 10% of the current schools were participating in Farm to School programs a decade ago. The 2019 census shows the vast majority have been in the program for three years or less. Schools are seeing the advantage of have locally-produced food products on their menus and finding ways to incorporate it within their walls.

To find out more about the Farm to School program, visit KDA’s website, kyagr.com