(10/05/22) BATON ROUGE, La. — After a two-year pandemic hiatus, Louisiana Farm to School partners were finally back face to face for their annual meeting at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center on Sept. 28.
Seeds to Success: The Louisiana Farm to School Program is made possible through an agreement between the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Education Division of Nutrition Support and is funded through the United States Department of Agriculture.
At the meeting, a wide cross-section of local food stakeholders involved in the program had a chance to network and share ideas.
LSU AgCenter Farm to School director Crystal Besse said the program is open to anyone interested.
“There are no limits on how to be involved. There are many ways to start your farm-to-school program,” she said. “But we do encourage you to start small.”
Farmers, volunteers, teachers, nutrition professionals and others looking for information can visit www.seedstosuccess.com, she said.
Topics discussed at the meeting ranged from growing a farm-to-school program to agritourism to taste testing with safety in mind.
“This year, we didn’t want to call it a conference,” she said. “We wanted to get people back together face to face to share ideas and networking, so we are calling it a gathering.”
This year’s gathering brought together more than 200 attendees from 39 Louisiana parishes, including 26 local farmers and representatives of various organizations and businesses.
Farm-to-school efforts are found nationwide and connect schools with local, fresh foods. In the process, they get children excited about making healthful food choices.
Lester Williams, a Batchelor vegetable grower, said he came to the conference to meet people and to learn new things.
Williams said the past two years have been tough as a grower, but there were people willing to help.
“The new Harvest of the Month videos have really helped bring more attention to my farm,” he said.
A number of people attending the conference even recognized him as the “squash man,” as he was featured in the Harvest of the Month Summer Squash video.
Matt Lee, interim LSU vice president for agriculture and dean of the College of Agriculture, said the LSU AgCenter is excited to be a partner in the endeavor.
“The AgCenter is working to help young children learn how to grow food that’s nutritionally appropriate and to prepare for later in life when they can economically impact their own communities by contributing to fresh food markets,” he said.
“Students will eat what they know, and eat what they grow,” said keynote speaker Beverly Girard.
Stephanie Loup, education program consultant with the Louisiana Department of Education, said the Seeds to Success program is a partnership between the LSU AgCenter and her department.
“Each state has their own farm-to-school program,” she said. “Louisiana’s program encompasses a wide variety of additional programming efforts toward local food systems, so our state farm-to-school program is called Seeds to Success.”
Louisiana has a number of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables that schools and preschools across the state feature in classrooms and cafeterias as part of the Louisiana Farm to School Program, Besse said.
Strawberries, sweet potatoes and citrus are just a few of the local favorites that students learn about with the help of Louisiana Harvest of the Month, which is a collection of lessons, posters and other resources about local food from the Seeds to Success: Louisiana Farm to School program.
According to the 2019 U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School Census, more than 55% of Louisiana school districts participate in farm-to-school programming, impacting roughly 505,811 students.
Matt Lee, interim LSU vice president for agriculture and dean of the College of Agriculture, discusses the importance of the agreement between the Louisiana Department of Education and the LSU AgCenter in sponsoring Seeds to Success: The Louisiana Farm to School program during its annual conference at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center on Sept. 28. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Jessie Hoover discusses agritourism during the Louisiana Farm to School Gathering at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center on Sept. 28. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
More than 200 growers and those interested in growing fruits and vegetables attended the Seeds to Success: The Louisiana Farm to School Gathering at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center on Sept. 28. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter