October is a month for great eating and celebrating local food! Here in Massachusetts the harvest is at its autumn peak with colorful vegetables and orchard fruits plentiful at markets and on our tables. Not only is Food Day a major October highlight, but the Massachusetts Farm to School Project also coordinates Harvest for Students Week. Now in its 7th year, this year’s Harvest Week is planned for September 30 – October 4. It’s a whole week to showcase local foods in our schools and this year it kicks off October’s National Farm to School Month. A whole month to celebrate eating local? You bet!
In fact, Mass. Farm to School Project works all year to support our farmers by facilitating sustainable purchasing relationships with institutional food services, ensuring that what they grow finds its way to reliable markets. K-12 schools and colleges are a big piece of that picture. When local food is served in school meals and snacks, our farms remain viable and our children have access to fresh, healthy, locally grown fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains, and dairy every day.
It’s exciting to celebrate with our colleagues and partners in the regional food system. There’s a lot to be proud of. Did you know that in our last survey of school districts across Massachusetts 231 of our 395 public school districts (not including charters) self-reported that they preferentially purchased local foods? In addition, more than 89 colleges and private schools did too. Whether they are purchasing directly from a farmer, or through a local distributor, they are supporting the agriculture of our state and ensuring that many thousands of students have nutritious, tasty school meals, regardless of their family income or access to fresh, local food outside of school.
Mass. Harvest for Students Week is an opportunity for school food service staff to highlight their efforts to serve local foods with a special event or activity in the cafeteria. Often schools create an all-local lunch, or feature special menu items while area farmers and local legislators are invited to eat with students in the cafeteria. Some schools plan events with the school garden and classrooms too. These have included garden parties, field trips to local farms and farmers markets, and fruit and vegetable art projects. Our website is a great source of activity ideas, recipes, and resource materials for Harvest Week. We invite you to share your plans for Harvest Week celebrations in your school!
Whether you choose to celebrate the bounty of locally grown foods for one day, one week, one month, or a whole year, it’s a good thing. Together we are making a difference and supporting the next generation of healthy farms and healthy students.