Gibson County Schools to start Farm to School Planning with USDA Grant Award

This month, $12.1 million was distributed in Farm to School Grants – the most awarded since the grant program’s inception ‒ to 159 grantees – the most projects funded to date. These awards, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), will help bring fresh, local foods into schools and foster economic opportunity for America’s farmers over the next school year.

There were only one of two grants awarded across the state of Tennessee this year – one of which the Trenton Special School District was awarded $44,530 for a Farm to School Planning Grant involving all 20 Gibson County Schools across the county.

“The Gibson County Farm to School planning project is a great opportunity for our county for reducing childhood hunger, improving child health and learning, and contributing to the Gibson County economy by keeping our school purchasing dollars here with local farmers and producers,” stated Lisa Seiber-Garland, Trenton Special School District School Nutrition Director. 

This planning project will collaborate with the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network, a local 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, to assess current assets and needs in 20 Gibson County Schools; increase collaboration between stakeholders and school districts; connect with regional farmers; identify supply chain & processing mechanisms; create a marketing plan to educate school district personnel and the public at large about F2S benefits. The project will develop an informed, workable action plan that lays out the process of developing a thriving Farm to School initiative in Gibson. 

“Humboldt City Schools is excited to be part of the Gibson County Farm to School Grant,” stated Wayne Sheehan, member of the Gibson County Farm to School Planning Team and Technology/Transportation/CTE Director from Humboldt City Schools. “We look forward to working with all partners to help bring Farm to School opportunities to all students in Humboldt and Gibson County.”

The initial activities of the planning project will be the formalization of the F2S planning team, and evaluations of community stakeholders.

“Creating more robust Farm to School programming in our region benefits students, teachers, farmers, families, food processors, distributors and the region at large,” stated Samantha Goyret, Executive Director of the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network. “We are very excited to partner with the Trenton Special School District and Farm to School planning team to identify Farm to School opportunities and needs throughout Gibson County.”

Farm to School Grants support a wide range of activities that increase the amount of local foods served in child nutrition programs and teach children about food and agriculture.

“USDA’s Farm to School Program is a win-win,” said Brandon Lipps, USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. “The grants announced today will help build bright futures for our children by connecting them to where their food comes from, while also nourishing the local economy and supporting American agriculture.”Last year, the NWTN Local Food Network received a Farm to School Planning Grant in partnership with the Weakley County School District. In 2019, the LFN organized as “Using Food to Build Community” Forum in Milan, TN with 50 participants which resulted in the creation of a Gibson County Local Foods Action Plan that highlights the need for more Farm to School Programming in Gibson County.

Visit the FNS website for more information about this year’s grantees and projects.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that leverage American’s agricultural abundance to ensure children and low-income individuals and families have nutritious food to eat. FNS also co-develops the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provide -based nutrition recommendations and serve as the cornerstone of federal nutrition policy.

Feeding Our Children Locally Grown Foods in Schools

How do you feed half a million mouths each school year with a nutritious, well-balanced diet? What is the best way to procure local foods for children to try and taste? What happens when the schools shut down and there are STILL hungry kids to feed, and how do you get them food to eat? Trista Snider, Weakley County School Nutrition Director, has been tirelessly working to find creative solutions to address these issues. 

“The Weakley County School Nutrition Department is eager to serve your child delicious and nutritious meals,” stated Trista Snider. “One breakfast meal is available to students in grades PK-12 at no cost. Free and Reduced school lunches are also available, [our grab-n-go lunches provide several days worth of meals for children over the summer].” And that’s not all, procuring local foods in schools by promoting “Taste-it-Tuesdays”, the school district has been sourcing their breakfast sausage from the Weakley County Schools Livestock Farm as part of a larger Farm to School project growing county wide.

Learn more about the LFN Farm to School Programs in Northwest Tennessee here: nwtnlfn.org/farm-to-school

The Weakley County School Farm is a key component of the county’s Farm to School vision. Working closely with the Weakley County Schools Livestock Farm Manager at Dresden High School, Keith Kemp and CTE Director, Lindsey Parham, Communications Director, Karen Campbell shared the School Farm’s vision: “Weakley County Schools Livestock Production Farm seeks to be the premiere high school agricultural complex that is both multi-disciplinary and multi-species. We are on a mission to serve the needs of our students seeking relevant careers, industries needing a trained workforce, and the communities in our area by providing products that will feed our school children, families and our economy.” 

Parham explained that the potential growth of the farm has implications beyond students interested in agriculture. “Our vision is to build a harvest facility and store to enhance our students’ experience in real world career skills in the areas of agriculture, business and marketing,” she noted.

Without agriculture, there is no food. Access to food is important in sustaining the future for our children, but most important is being able to feed them on a daily basis. During the COVID-19 Crisis, Snider and her team have prepared meals by a caring cafeteria staff and delivered to vehicles at various sites throughout the county. As one principal put it, “It’s all hands on deck to keep our children fed.” 

~Samantha Goyret
LFN Team Blogger
Published in 2020 Northwest Tennessee Local Food Guide