The “RI Farm Produce to School Lunch Program” began in 1999 with the goal of improving children's nutrition and wellness and providing Rhode Island Farmers with a steady income.
Realizing that strong local support was essential to obtaining the school districts' approval to serve local produce, Kids First developed a successful and innovative program to educate virtually everyone in the chain of approval by creating teams of food professionals: nutritionists, dietitians, chefs, and food service experts to provide “on site” education to all those involved in integrating locally grown products into school lunch programs. Farm visits have been an important part of the educational experience. Thousands of students and school community members participated in the Kids First initial educational programs.
Training was followed by introduction of produce into schools. In addition to classroom presentations, guest chefs provided demonstrations of tasty recipes followed by sampling to student in cafeterias. Occasionally PTA groups are invited to attend. Sampling is very popular and helps establish almost immediate approval of previous unknown vegetables.
Today all 36 Rhode Island school districts are involved in the program. During 2010, more than 200,000 pounds of locally grown foods were served in RI Schools.
The program is a win win for farmers and students. Schools: students can include fresh fruit or vegetables daily. Farmers: schools have become an important and reliable market for 26 farmers.
Community awareness of the importance of fresh produce has been raised and children are requesting more local produce in family meals. Increasing demand for local produce insures predictable farm revenue and sustainable farming practices thus preserving farmland.