Students selected fresh produce — peaches, apples, watermelon and corn on the cob — to go with their lunches during Maryland Homegrown School Lunch Week Sept. 25 to 28 in Charles County Public Schools (CCPS).
More than 16,400 hamburgers and 8,422 hotdogs made from livestock raised in the tri-county area and processed in Hagerstown were served. When it comes to produce, 330 watermelons were purchased, 9,600 ears of corn and 445 heads of cauliflower. There were sweet potatoes, spinach and salads. The total number of meals served was about 67,000.
Maryland Homegrown School Lunch Week encourages school districts to serve products grown locally and in the state, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which, along with the Maryland State Department of Education, oversees the program that marked it’s 10th year this month.
Maryland is the first state in the nation to have all of its public school systems participate in the week, with 60 farmers taking part this year, Joseph Bartenfelder, Maryland secretary of agriculture, said.
“Our goal is to see even more local, fresh food in school lunches, not only to improve childhood health but also to help them learn about the importance of our farms to our environment and daily lives,” he said in a news release. “Homegrown School Lunch Week not only provides effective learning activities, it can be an economic opportunity for Maryland farmers and it is fun for students and other participants.”
At Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary School, local farmer David Hancock of Hancock Family Farms, dropped by to talk with students about his life as a farmer and why the occupation is an integral one.
“Agriculture is an important industry, not just for me, but for everybody,” Hancock said. “We depend on it.”
Hancock, who comes from generations of farmers, raises livestock and produce on his farm. “We seldom have to buy food,” he said, adding the family cans produce for use over the colder months. “We’re pretty self-sufficient.”
While his children, who attend Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy, have a handle on where food comes from thanks to the family business, some of their peers may not.
When Hancock asked a young student where milk comes from, she responded, “The cooler.” She’s not wrong, but farmers and the Maryland Department of Agriculture are aiming to teach children and adults more about food and its origins.
And there are students who get the message. Fresh produce is “good for your body,” said Jocelyn Furman, a Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy fourth grader. “And it’s not sugary.”
“It’s healthier than processed food,” Claire Campbell, a fourth-grade student, added.
Anna Beyer, the food service manager at Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy, said her students often reach for fruits and vegetables throughout the year, and enjoyed seeing the variety offered during the week. “They are intrigued by the peaches and apples,” she said. “The corn on the cob has been a big hit. The watermelon … these kids would eat watermelon every day if they could.”
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,900 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Marvin L. Jones, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.