School gardens and nutrition education: Grants for FL schools to expand access to local produce

Florida farmers have lost millions of dollars on peppers and other fresh produce they could not sell during the pandemic. Credit: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Kids in Tampa will soon grow produce in a local garden, to distribute to their communities. Others will learn how to make healthy snacks at their local YMCA.

Miami-Dade kids could soon serve as “community ambassadors” and lead workshops promoting the benefits of eating fresh produce.

And up in Northeast Florida, Putnam County schools will get to expand school gardens, working “to craft a true farm to plate for Putnam County students.”

It’s all because of a federal initiative to bolster what’s called the “farm to school” program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded grants to 45 states and Washington D.C., in order to bring more locally grown produce into school cafeterias and provide more healthier food options for students.

Florida is set to receive more than $216,000 to provide more locally grown produce to students and provide education on nutrition through hands-on learning experiences, according to the USDA’s news release.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried said in a Thursday tweet that it was “great to see” these four districts awarded funds to further farm to school efforts and nutrition education.

An annual report on Florida’s farm to school programs, released in October 2020, estimates that in the 2019-20 school year, the “total estimated value of Florida products purchased for school meals was $57,424,175.”

Here’s the breakout of the grant awards:

/St. Lucie County school district: $9,700 to work on expanding current school garden programs and continue working with local venders to provide schools with locally-sourced foods.

/Putnam County school district: $91,210 to expand current school garden programs and enrich local produce procurement.

/Miami-Dade school board: $36,746 to establish a student-led agribusiness program called the William H. Turner Technical Arts High School Fresh Food Venture. Students in the program will lead workshops on urban farming.

/The Tampa YMCA, an international nonprofit organization: $78,439 to expand efforts from the four sites in Hillsborough County — the Sulphur Springs K-8 Community School and three YMCA-based after-school programs. The efforts include kids learning how to create healthy snacks and learn the importance of eating healthy. The Sulphur Springs K-8 Community School will grow produce from a garden to distribute the food to the community.