For the last decade, Perry County has continuously finished at the end of the pack in anything health related. One local organization hopes to take a step in the right direction to ending that trend with a program that will bring fresh, locally grown food to the lunchroom tables of every school in the county.
The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky was awarded a $35,000 grant in November of last year to begin work on planning a Farm to School program in the Perry County school system — something that has been tried numerous times before to no avail.
“There has been some work on Farm to School in the past, and there was a Farm to School taskforce in Perry County,” Allison Tse, who works at the Foundation, explained, adding that the taskforce had held a farm dinner last year at Perry County Central to celebrate Farm to School day.
Farm to School, Tes explained, is a program that gets local farms to sell their produce to be used in school cafeterias.
“Basically, it’s a program where you are trying to get local farm produce instead of commodity in your school cafeterias,” she said.
Tse said the program has been successful in other counties in the area, such as Owsley County where students actually grow some of the food they eat in school.
“That’s one of the problems is that Perry County’s not a very agricultural county and there’s not enough farms to produce all of the food that the cafeterias could need. So, all of these Farm to School efforts in the past have been, like the main challenge is that you have to go kind of far to get all the food,” Tse said.
Linda Campbell, who works with the food service for the Perry County District, knows all about the woes the previous efforts have had since she has been at the lead in all eight instances. She said while she thinks the program is an amazing idea, it will be difficult to implement due to the long distances the food and farmers would have to travel to deliver the produce to the schools.
“Mainly, it’s a problem with delivery. It’s not beneficial for farmers to, financially feasible for them to deliver food to our smaller schools,” Campbell said. “I’ve delivered stuff in my own truck and I just don’t have time to do it.”
Campbell said she hopes this grant is the push the initiative needs to get off the ground for good.
“We need a place to store it, a central place to get it delivered to, and then our own person to deliver that out to our smaller schools,” Campbell said, adding that all that is really needed is time and commitment.
Tse said this is what makes the grant the Foundation received so perfect for the area because it gives those involved time — until November 2014 — and money to figure out what problems would be faced in implementing a program such as this and to plan how those problems could be overcome.
“There’s all these things that are happening in the community alongside of this that could help solve this problem in the future,” Tse said, explaining that a regional food hub could be a future possibility as well as pushes for more involved local farmer’s markets.
Tse said the benefits for a Farm to School program far outweigh any concerns.
“What I think the fresher produce would bring is better tasting food, because food is just better when it’s fresher,” she said.
The cost of the food would actually be lower, Tse added, than that of the commodity food the schools currently purchase. The program would also likely increase students’ interest in what they are eating and, in turn, their health.
Campbell added that the local economy would also get a boost from the sales.
“We hope that if we could get enough interest maybe finding jobs for farmers that they could actually grow locally for us. They’d have the market if they knew we were going to buy the food. That would give them a job, and they’d make money,” she said.
Tse said though the plans are in the very early stages, she is very optimistic about what this program could do for Perry County in the, hopefully, near future.
“I think Farm to School might also be one piece in the puzzle of a healthy culture change in getting people to think more about what they’re eating and the quality of what they’re eating and where it comes from,” she said.