Ray Daily (RSU 24 Food Service Director), Shirley Lannon (Lamoine School Cook), Katie Freedman (Healthy Acadia’s Food, Farm & Nutrition Coordinator), & Charlotte Young (Shalom Orchard Farmer), at Shalom Orchard developing a School Supported Agriculture Agreement.
Healthy Acadia and RSU 24 Partner on Farm to School
September 25, 2012

RSU 24 schools are improving student nutrition and making the most of the overlap between the school year and Maine’s growing season by purchasing from local farms this fall. Several schools are participating in School Supported Agriculture (SSA) Agreements with the support of Healthy Acadia’s Downeast Farm to School Program. Six RSU 24 schools met with local farmers this past spring to work out the details of what they’d like to purchase during the fall. SSAs improve communication and coordination between school cooks and farmers – two very busy groups of people. Shalom Orchard, Mandala Farm, and Darthia Farm are among the local suppliers to RSU 24 schools this year.

“Studies show that children who are well nourished are more ready to learn and are more likely to excel in school,” stated Healthy Acadia’s Food, Farm and Nutrition Coordinator, Katie Freedman. “Increasing local healthy foods in schools is a win-win-win: it improves the health of our students, improves student learning, and supports our local farmers and our local economy.”

This week is Maine Harvest Lunch Week, a time when schools throughout the state are encouraged to serve up locally grown foods in the cafeteria and offer classroom lessons about Maine foods. Most RSU 24 schools are currently purchasing some local foods for their salad bars and meals, and all schools will feature a lunch that is sourced almost entirely from Maine on October 17th.

RSU 24 Food Service Director Ray Daily has been a strong advocate of Farm to School. Stated Daily: “Our goal is to make healthy, appealing meals that the kids will eat, and the high quality of the local foods we buy helps with that. When more kids purchase lunch, that helps our bottom line.”

Mr. Daily attended the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Burlington, Vermont in August along with Healthy Acadia’s Katie Freedman. The two attended a number of workshops, with topics such as procuring meat and seafood for cafeterias, creating comprehensive food systems curricula within schools, local foods processing initiatives involving service learning students, and more. Attending a session on supporting food service directors together, Mr. Daily and Ms. Freedman were inspired by a superintendent from New Hampshire who discussed the importance of making a plan at the administrative level to set goals, benchmarks for success, and policy changes to ensure the lasting success of farm to school initiatives.

“The biggest take home message for me was how it takes the whole community to make big improvements to the school health environment and to improve the way kids eat. It takes everyone on board - classrooms, cafeterias, administration, local businesses, farms, and families. Children need to be taught how to choose healthy foods at home or in their classroom before they’ll walk into the cafeteria and pick the salad bar,” says Daily. “It’s tough in this economic climate to invest in local farm products when you’re struggling with tight budgets, but we know how important nutrition is for the health and education of our children. We are taking small steps and doing what we can.”

Mr. Daily’s attendance at the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference was supported by a stipend provided by the Downeast Community Transformation grant, a project of the Downeast Public Health Coordinating Council. Healthy Acadia is a member of the Council, which serves Hancock and Washington Counties.

Healthy Acadia’s Downeast Farm to School Program has been supporting RSU 24’s commitment to serving and teaching about healthy and local foods in their schools for several years. Whether convening School Supported Agriculture meetings with farmers, teaching School Garden 101 in partnership with UMaine Cooperative Extension, offering farm field trips to staff, or doing hands on apple cider pressing with students, Healthy Acadia works in partnership with schools throughout Hancock and Washington Counties to support student health, nutrition and education. For more information or to get involved, contact Healthy Acadia’s Katie Freedman at 288-5331 or katie@healthyacadia.org.

Healthy Acadia is a non-profit community health coalition serving the Downeast-Acadia region and is the Healthy Maine Partnership for Hancock County.