Last week, New Jersey Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Joe Atchison III presented Upper Pittsgrove School in Salem County with the “Full Bloom Farm to School Award” during a visit to the school’s classrooms, garden, and cafeteria. The presentation took place during the celebration of the 13th annual Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week and the initial Ag Literacy Week, held September 25 through 29.
“Upper Pittsgrove implemented this program two years ago and it has made a significant impact in the school and the community,” Assistant Secretary Atchison said. “Their ability to incorporate agriculture into their curriculum, and have it become part of the school’s culture in such short time is a credit to the administration, teachers, staff, and students who have done their share to make this happen.”
Upper Pittsgrove fourth grade teacher Leevon Cogdill started the school’s AGventure Club in September of 2021. It has led to using the school garden to grow produce, which has been used for school meals. In summer the club donates its produce to the local Meals on Wheels organization. Cogdill led the Assistant Secretary, other NJDA staff, Department of Education staff, and state and local officials on a tour that included classrooms, the school garden, and the cafeteria.
“The students have taken a great interest in our school garden and the program continues to expand as they learn more about how we grow produce, what we can grow, and how beneficial it can be for long-term health if they make it a regular part of their diet,” Cogdill said. “Experiencing the process of growing food and seeing it come to fruition, in some of our school meals is very rewarding. That students participate in growing food, and having it become part of a school meal, is a wonderful lesson.”
Upper Pittsgrove School’s Farm to School activities include participation in Farm to School Week, menu offerings from local farms, taste tests with locally grown produce, an outdoor garden with raised beds, a curriculum tied to agriculture, and an aquaponics operation that includes koi fish.
Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week was designated as the last week of each September by a law signed in 2010. During this week, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture showcases schools that connect with New Jersey farmers to purchase local produce for school meals to increase student consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Farm to School activities can include, but are not exclusive to:
- Nutrition education, including taste tests with 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 into what is being taught in the classroom.
The influence of the Farm to School Program has led to almost 500 schools purchasing local. More than 300 of the districts buying local have implemented cafeteria programs using Harvest of the Month promotional material to highlight the nutritional value of local items. Nearly 200 districts use a curriculum that ties cafeteria meals to healthy eating education and/or field trips to farms.
To learn more, visit farmtoschool.nj.gov.
New Jersey Agricultural Literacy Week
New Jersey Agricultural Literacy Week was established for the purpose of highlighting the importance of New Jersey agriculture, how the state’s agricultural products provide the necessary ingredients for meals, and the health value of eating fresh farm foods and locally grown produce and fruits for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Local Farms Step Up:
An AGventure Club bulletin board at Upper Pittsgrove shows local farms the school has sourced from. Those farms include:
- Patten Farms
- Bee Crop Honey
- Coombs Farms
- Wilson Brothers Farm
- DiBella Brothers Farm
- Sickler’s Circle View Farms
- Cassaday Farms
- Schober and Sons Farm