The New Jersey Department of Agriculture will honor schools in the state that are doing the best job incorporating local produce into their school meals programs, growing school gardens, and teaching students about nutrition and where their food comes from.  On March 1, applications for the “Best in New Jersey Farm-to-School Awards Program” became available online. The application deadline is June 1.

This new award for Pre-K to 12th grade schools will highlight efforts that feature produce grown on New Jersey farms in school cafeterias and classrooms. Initiatives include school gardening, farm visits, culinary classes, and the integration of food-related education into the  classroom curriculum.

One exemplary school that provides the most extensive number of meaningful Farm-to-School activities will be presented with the “Best in New Jersey Farm-to -School Award” during Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week September 26-30, 2016.

“We have seen great interest by schools to participate in Farm-to-School activities and we want to recognize a school each year that is doing a commendable job,” said New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher. “We encourage all schools to incorporate Farm-to-School into their meals and also into their school’s culture.  Our goal is to help students make healthier food choices, learn about New Jersey agriculture and where their food comes from.”

Schools that participate in the “Best in New Jersey Farm-to-School Awards Program” will receive an exclusive Jersey Fresh Farm-to-School promotional materials kit for use in the school cafeteria to inform the school community about the program. The kit will include Jersey Fresh Farm-to -School logo items such as a Jersey Fresh Farm-to-School banner, aprons, pencils, key chains, and a flash drive containing program and media templates to customize announcements of participating schools’ Farm-to-School activities.

One award will be presented to the school or district that best exemplifies and excels in Farm-to-School initiatives in as many related activities as possible. An awards ceremony will take place the last week in September 2016 during “Jersey Fresh Farm-to-School Week.”

Farm-to-School programs across New Jersey are teaching students about fresh fruits and vegetables in ways that broaden their understanding of many subjects, including the importance of eating healthy foods, the benefits of farming, life cycles taught in science, and the great taste of just-picked produce.

Farm-to-School activities can include, but are not exclusive to:

  • Nutrition education, including taste tests of produce purchased from local farms
  • Harvest meals serving locally sourced products from New Jersey farms
  • Farm-to-School curricular tie-ins that connect the cafeteria to the classroom or school garden
  • Visits to or from local farms that teach students how food is grown
  • School garden education that ties directly into what is already being taught in the classroom

Examples of Farm-to-School programs that promote local produce and school garden education include West New York School District’s commitment to purchasing local produce through their USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, Philips Academy Charter School’s rooftop garden and nutrition education program in Newark, and Margate City Schools award-winning school garden, with support from both inside and outside of the school district, engaging the entire community.

Applications for the Jersey Fresh Farm-to-School Recognition and Award program are available online.

To learn more, visit the website.

Lynne Richmond is public information officer at the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.