Editor’s Note: For a list of all schools awarded grant funding, click here.
WARSAW, Ohio — In the River View School District in Ohio’s Coshocton County, farming, food and the school are essentially as one.
Behind the high school is the school garden — a 2-acre plot of produce maintained by about 85 FFA students. In front, just across state Route 60, are the beef and swine barns, where FFA students raise projects for the fair, and to help supplement the meat supply in the school’s cafeteria.
And all around are corn and soybeans, about 50 acres of each — also maintained by students. The district is one of few in the state to have its own farm, and one of only five to receive grant money through a first-year pilot program sponsored by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the governor’s office and the Ohio Department of Education.
On Oct. 12, officials from those offices and visitors toured the school and its agricultural enterprises with school administrators, and members of the FFA.
Ohio Director of Agriculture Robert Boggs, First Lady Frances Strickland, and Brigette Hires of the Ohio Department of Education were among those who commended River View for being part of Ohio’s Farm to School Initiative — a program through Gov. Ted Strickland’s Food Policy Advisory Council to connect schools with local farms.
As one of the first schools to be chosen, the district received $2,000, which it used toward funding its first-year garden.
FFA members walked guests through parts of the garden, where they were growing 1,750 tomato plants, roughly 3,600 pepper plants, as well as green beans, cucumbers, lima beans and pumpkins.
The students and their adviser developed an irrigation system and used plastic coverings to control weed growth. Students were scheduled to work in the plot throughout growing season, and nearly all FFA members helped with harvest.
Emily Stout, an FFA officer, told Boggs one improvement she’d like to make next year is to get more students involved.
There are more than 600 high school students not in FFA. But others would find the school garden interesting, if they understood what it entails, she explained.
“If we told them (other students) what was going to happen and what they had to do and the benefits from everything, I think we’d get more involvement,” she said.
Knowing their food. Scott Limburg, the school’s food service director, said students like knowing where there food comes from — especially when it’s raised by their own classmates or area farms.
“The kids want to associate their food with someone,” he said. “If we can do that, we’re able to connect them a little closer to a farm. Even being in a rural area, a lot of kids don’t know what a farm is.”
The Farm to School Initiative helps bridge that gap, through a hands-on growing experience, and also through education about farms, foods and nutrition.
Standing aboard the school bus that shuttled everyone around, Boggs announced an additional $10,000 for schools interested in a farm-to-school curriculum, and creation of a state advisory council comprised of high school students, to help guide the state’s farm-to-school program.
“We hope to keep building and building on this program,” he said. “Thank you to River View for giving us a solid foundation on which to continue to build the program.”
Economic impact. He estimated Ohioans spend about $43 billion a year on food, with only 3 percent going toward products from Ohio farms. He estimates if the state’s schools purchased just 25 percent of their fruits and vegetables from local farmers, for school lunches, it would contribute more than $13 million to the local economy.
Limburg said he hopes the school can increase its reliance on locally grown foods, all school year, and include the district’s four elementary schools.
Following the tour, FFA Adviser Jim Rich led media through some of the livestock facilities, where students raise broiler chickens, beef and swine. Some of the beef is served in the cafeteria and some of the animals are exhibited at the county fair by students.
In cooperation with the Walhonding Valley Farmers, the students and local farmers produce 100 acres of grain crops and 20-30 acres of hay.
Learning by doing
About 20 students are part of a school-sponsored beef cooperative, which allows them to become experienced as cattlemen, and learn beyond the classroom.
With the school farm, “we’re able to do things I couldn’t do as a teacher,” Rich said.
About 12-15 cattle are raised each year and students are assigned duties through a schedule that keeps them on track. The meat and produce that doesn’t enter the cafeteria is marketed locally.
It’s not necessarily a for-profit venture, Rich explained, but a way to educate and earn back what they can.
“The intention wasn’t to be a full-fledged production, but to teach,” he said.