More Maryland school districts purchase local foods for summer nutrition programs than any other state in the nation, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and that’s great news for local children. The USDA’s recently released Farm to School Census has placed a spotlight on Maryland’s success.
Nationally, 22 percent of districts participating in Farm to School purchase local foods for their summer programs. Maryland is at the head of the class, with 68 percent of school districts participating. A few states—West Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island—have a higher percentage of school districts participating in Farm to School programs, but these states don’t have their Farm-to-School districts purchase locally grown food at the same high rate—59 percent—as Maryland.
(The rate in Illinois is much lower: 24 percent of districts in the state participate in Farm to School programs, which is about average for the entire country, despite the rich farmland to be found in most of the state.)
During the summer, Maryland growers produce a rich agricultural abundance, and school districts take advantage of the fresh, local offerings by serving them in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The SFSP is a USDA program that combats childhood hunger by reimbursing agencies for meals served to children during the summer.
“Summer can be a difficult time for children who rely on school meals. Without access to nutritious food, many of our students experience hunger and the subsequent negative health and learning effects,” said Karen Salmon, acting state superintendent of schools. “Incorporating local foods into the summer nutrition programs not only supports Maryland agriculture, but also enhances the healthfulness of the meals children receive.”
Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder shared his appreciation for Maryland schools: “I commend the school systems for buying Maryland-grown products throughout the school year,” he said.”
The Summer Food Service Program offers an additional opportunity for schools and other providers to incorporate products grown by Maryland farmers into summer meals, but in addition to offering local foods, some SFSP agencies have begun serving summer meals at farmers’ markets across the State. Anne Arundel County Public Schools, for example, has partnered with the County Health Department and Shlagel Farms to operate a pop-up market at one of their existing SFSP sites.
The SFSP is open to children and teens age 18 and under and to individuals over 18 who are mentally or physically disabled. Use this Google Maps interface to locate a site near you by just typing in your ZIP Code. And to learn more about Maryland’s Farm to School Program, visit the page on the website for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, here.