By Tim Williams, Program Manager, Working Landscapes, Warren County, NC
The lights are on and the machines whirring on a recent June morning in downtown Warrenton, NC. From the outside, the former cotton gin warehouse doesn’t look like much, but what you find behind the historic facade is an innovative farm-to-school venture that is bringing locally grown, fresh-cut vegetables to students across Northeastern NC.
This particular batch of vegetables is headed to Beaufort County Schools. The district has placed an order for 150 cases of chopped collard greens to wash, cook, and freeze. Beaufort School Nutrition Director, Gwyn McBride, says “our students will enjoy every bit of the greens next school year. Having access to a locally grown and easy to use product is very convenient and we are looking forward serving our students local produce.”
The Chopped Produce Initiative is a project of Working Landscapes, a nonprofit organization based in Warren County, NC. The project offers fresh-cut vegetables–collard greens and cabbage–to school districts during fall and winter months in an effort to boost the local agricultural economy, contribute to the revitalization of downtown Warrenton, and most importantly offer school children fresh, locally grown vegetables at lunch time. The Initiative was launched in 2013 and has since provided fresh-cut vegetables to 10 school districts. Since November of 2014, the project has purchased over 25,000 pounds of produce from three GAP Certified family farms in the county and has reached nearly 19,000 students.
Chopping produce isn’t the only thing Working Landscapes does to bring the farm to school. School districts who participate in the Chopped Produce Initiative also have the opportunity to take part in What’s Growing On?, an educational program that promotes local, seasonal produce in cafeterias, classrooms, and communities across northeastern North Carolina. The project will offer region-specific posters and calendars that can be displayed in cafeterias throughout the year. An elementary school curriculum is also in the works.
Building supply chains that support small farmers; bringing agricultural processing back to a rural downtown; supplying cafeterias with local, healthy foods; and educating kids about their food: Working Landscapes is growing a farm to school community from seed in our region.