SNP Program Enrichment
Meeting students’ nutritional needs is the top priority in school nutrition, but many school nutrition programs go beyond meeting this priority in order to optimize students’ school nutrition experience. The pages below offer resources and information on school nutrition program enrichment opportunities. Dig into the Farm to School page to learn about efforts that deepen the connection students and schools have to local agriculture, and how these efforts can benefit school nutrition programs, students, and communities at large.
Farm to school is taking root in Tennessee’s school nutrition programs, where high school students are growing fresh produce in agriculture programs for school meals; farmers are cultivating crops for nearby schools and making guest appearances in cafeterias; and students are learning where food comes from by tending school gardens.
Farm to school programs include initiatives that bring communities and schools closer to local agriculture, and can include serving locally or regionally-produced foods in school cafeterias; providing hands-on learning activities such as school gardening, farm visits, and culinary classes; and integrating food-related education into the regular, standards-based classroom curriculum.
In Tennessee, approximately 106 school districts participate in farm to school. Among those school districts, there are about 350 school gardens that provide food for school nutrition programs, connect children to their food source, and create hands-on, interdisciplinary learning environments for students. Additionally, almost 40 high school agriculture programs grow produce that’s served to students in school cafeterias.
Farm to school is recognized as a best practice for school nutrition programs by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and can contribute to earning recognition through HealthierUS School Challenge: Smarter Lunchrooms (HUSSC: SL) and the One in a Melon award program.
Here are a few research-based benefits of farm to school in school nutrition programs:
- increased student participation in school meal service,
- increased program revenue and lower meal costs,
- increased community support for school meals and acceptance of the meal pattern,
- reduced food waste in cafeterias, and
- improved eating behaviors in students (choosing healthier options, eating more fruits and vegetables, more willing to try new foods).
Explore the following topics to learn more about farm to school.
At least one school district participates in farm to school in each of the green counties below:
The first steps with farm to school do not have to be giant leaps. For example, contact school representatives in one of the green counties above to learn how they got started. Here are other examples of how to start small:
- Visit with the districts’ agriculture teacher(s) to discuss the opportunity of purchasing food grown by students in agriculture programs.
- Substitute one local food item for a non-local one already on the menu.
- Ask your current distributor for information on which of its products are locally-sourced.
- Visit a farmers market to talk to growers about the opportunity for farm to school partnership.
- Contact the Tennessee Department of Education’s Farm to School Specialist to discuss goals, brainstorm ideas, and ask questions.
- Explore the USDA Farm to School Planning Toolkit, which includes thorough step-by-step instructions on creating successful, sustainable farm to school programs. It is accompanied by a set of eleven 30-minute webinars titled, “Planning for Farm to School Success in 2016.”
Produce grown in high school agriculture programs and in school gardens is an inexpensive source of fresh, local food for school nutrition programs. Purchasing is made simple, since a formal procurement is usually not necessary due to the size of the purchase. To learn more about procurement options when purchasing produce from agriculture programs or school gardens, see pages 73–74 of USDA’s Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs guide.
Connect with agriculture teachers (see teacher directory in the “Finding sources of local produce” section of the “Local Foods Procurement” tab), district-level Career and Technical Education (CTE) directors, CTE consultants, or other school garden leaders to establish a Student Farm to School or School Garden to Cafeteria program.
Food safety with school garden produce served in school nutrition programs is a major priority, even though there isn’t a federal or state regulatory program to guide it. If produce is meant to be served to students, food safety practices should be implemented in school gardens, greenhouses, and farms. The following are tools that can help school nutrition directors ensure that products from school-based agricultural operations are as safe as possible. To get an idea of USDA’s stance on food safety as it pertains to farm to school, read these frequently asked questions and explore the following resources:
- USDA and Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN): Food Safety Tips for School Gardens
- LifeLab, LLC: Eat What You Grow: A School Garden Food Safety Manual for Chicago Public Schools
- North Carolina State University and NC Cooperative Extension: Food Safety for School and Community Gardens
- Tennessee Department of Education: Food Safety Checklist for School Gardens or Greenhouses
Jr. Chef is a statewide cooking competition, modeled after professional cooking competitions, for students in grades 8-12. This event will allow students to showcase their cooking abilities, creativity, public speaking skills, and more! Not only are students competing to be named Tennessee’s Jr. Chef State Champion, but students are also competing for over $15,000 in scholarship money! Each student from the top three teams will receive scholarships to attend Sullivan University. Tennessee’s champion team will also have the opportunity to represent our state at the Southeast Regional Jr. Chef Competition. There, Tennessee will compete against other states in the southeast region trying for the title of Southeast Region Jr. Chef Champion. At this level of competition, winning teams have the potential to earn even more scholarship funding.
To participate in the competition, districts may create a team, or teams, made up of 2-5 students. The students, along with their coach, will create their own dish using at least two local ingredients, and at least one USDA Foods item.
In order to advance to the statewide competition, districts may send one team to their regional competition. If a district has more than one team, that district must hold a local cook-off to determine what team will advance to regionals. Each region will send one district to compete at the state level. Teams will compete in a bracket-style competition beginning with quarter-finals, semi-finals, and the championship.
If you are interested in sponsoring a team or learning more about Jr. Chef, contact your Farm to School Specialist at Elizabeth.Goss@tn.gov.
Summer is an excellent time to integrate local products into meals served through the Seamless Summer Option and the Summer Food Service Program since produce availability is at its peak and prices are at their lowest. But farm to summer is more than just serving local foods, and can involve engaging kids with summer’s bounty by supporting feeding sites at farmers markets; coordinating garden or farm-themed summer camps; and taking student groups on field trips to pick-your-own farms or farmers markets. Read this USDA Farm to Summer Fact Sheet and visit USDA’s Farm to Summer webpage for more information.
From beef to strawberries, local foods are on the menu in Tennessee schools. The top five products being purchased locally for Tennessee school nutrition programs are apples, melons, tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers.
For excellent guidance on local food procurement, explore the USDA Office of Community Food System’s Procuring Local Foods webpage. Resources include the Finding, Buying, and Serving Local Foods Webinar Series, the “Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs” guide, and lists of fact sheets and policy memos relevant to local food procurement.
- Tennessee Department of Education: School Nutrition Resource Guide to Micro-Purchases for Local Products
- Finding sources of local products: