Farm to School Kickoff Plants Seeds for Future

Farm to School Kickoff Plants Seeds for Future
Posted on 10/02/2019
This is the image for the news article titled Farm to School Kickoff Plants Seeds for FutureWeakley County’s Farm to School Kickoff on Tuesday night drew nearly 90 representatives of business, government, and school leadership to Dresden High School to hear more about the initiative and offer input on ways to increase farm and school interactions. The information sharing and gathering took the form of surveys, a farm tour, presentations, and table discussions over plates of farm-to-table produce and sausage from the Weakley County Schools Livestock Program.

“We’ve been noted as being the ‘last remaining’ farm of this kind in the state,” said Weakley County Schools director Randy Frazier after participating in the evening’s instruction and vision-casting. “But we’d like to change that to ‘currently we are the only school-based multi-species production farm.’ With collaborations like this one with Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network, we have the potential to be a model for other districts.”

The evening began with visitors greeted by one of many Dresden FFA members who were volunteering to set up, explain the livestock program, and clean up the school grounds after the event was over.

Ashley Kite-Rowland, the Local Food Network (LFN) Director of Research and Community Outreach, distributed pre-evaluation surveys to measure existing knowledge of the farm-to-school concept. Results of the surveys will be used as a comparison after the farm-to-school plan is underway. LFN and Weakley County Schools received a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant to identify additional assets and needs and begin to develop a collaborative vision regarding how to effectively incorporate farm to school activities into all grades at every school. The plan is scheduled to be completed by April 2021.

Student farmers and FFA members Ben Ellis, Natalie Weidenbach, Bennett Higgs, Kyle Elam, Parker Maxey, and Travis Platt served as tour docents Visitors then traveled by hayride to the various barns located on the production farm. Student farmers Ben Ellis, Travis Platt, Kyle Elam, Parker Maxey, Natalie Weidenbach, and Bennett Higgs served as tour docents explaining the various aspects of large animal science, veterinary science and small animal care that students receive via hands-on learning.

Once they returned to the Dresden Theater, LFN co-founder Samantha Goyret relayed that nationally, the farm to school focus ranges from taste tests in the cafeteria and nutrition education activities in the classroom, to farm visits and school gardens.

Bethany Allen, Coordinated School Health Director and a member of the Farm-to-School planning team, provided an overview of current ag-related endeavors in county schools. She noted that each school has a healthy school team, ag is taught in kindergarten through fifth grade classrooms in science class, and each high school offers ag. Sharon School has a several-bed garden, county FFA programs have greenhouses, and all county fourth graders participate in an annual Farm Day.

Allen also addressed areas considered challenges to overcome. She noted that 45.5% of the student population were deemed overweight or obese in 2018-19 by health standards. Though all students can receive a free breakfast, more than 60% of our students are eligible to receive free or reduced lunches.

Trista Snider, supervisor of school nutrition, offered her comments via video as she was attending a statewide conference on Tuesday. She expressed gratitude to the team’s efforts thus far and pointed out that her goal was to expand options beyond the current sausage served in the Dresden cafeteria to offerings from more local producers.

“Anytime our students can grow the produce themselves or be included in the process, it helps them to be open to trying new things,” she said.


Samantha Goyret addresses crowdGoyret agreed. “We’d like our kids to know where their food comes from,” she said, adding that with Weakley County schools serving over a half a million lunches each year farm to school also can mean economic benefits. “When you source food locally all the money stays in our county. Not only do kids win by getting local foods and eating fresher but farmers win because it’s providing them a solid income base.”

Jason Kemp, ag teacher, FFA advisor, and farm manager told the crowd that in addition to working through the process to provide USDA-approved sausage to not just Dresden but eventually all county schools, the program is currently working with Tosh Farms to ensure that students who, due to farming realities, may not be returning to family farms, will receive training to go directly into a Tosh program.

“We’ve got a lot of things in store,” Kemp concluded. “You’ve got to dream big if you’re going to get anywhere.”
Those big dreams include a veterinary science laboratory, a meats lab and small-scale and a USDA processing facility.
Wendy Sneed who graduated from the Dresden program and is now a Tennessee Department of Agriculture business development consultant attended the event and affirmed that such forward-thinking was critical.

touring farm“We are no longer your granddaddy’s farm,” she said in a brief conversation with Weakley’s Career and Technical Education director Lindsey Parham who was noted several times throughout presentations as helping to pave the way for innovation in the county. “Over the years, ag has become extremely technology-based and tech is going to be the way to bring in a new generation of agriculture. Weakley County is in a great position with a forward-thinking CTE director who has taught the curriculum and comes as a fourth generation farmer and with Jason Kemp who, as president of the National Association of Agricultural Educators, has traveled around the country and can bring back innovative ideas to utilize here.”

Guests were treated to a meal of sausage from the onsite farm, biscuits and gravy from Simply Southern; breakfast potatoes prepared with items from Jill Magness Farms, Hidden Hill Farm, and Barefoot Garden; hydroponically grown mixed greens salad from Blackberry Pond Farm and additional salad items from Richard Turnbow and Turnbow Family Farm; scrambled eggs from Danna Stafford; homemade jams and local honey; and fried pies from Oma’s Country Kitchen. Keisha Stafford, the cafeteria manager for DHS, supervised the presentation of the meal.

Before taking home apples from Dixie Chile Ranch, they were asked to discuss how they would complete the sentence: I believe that a successful farm to school program includes .…”

The visioning exercise netted several responses which were collected to inform the process. Answers included noting the financial advantages from reduced food costs, raising chickens for eggs, using hydroponics, educating students in schools on career opportunities and producers on how to inform the students of those opportunities and thereby grow the workforce, a potential Weakley County Ag Leadership program modeled after Weakley County Leadership, and a summer garden program.

Goyret concluded the evening with an invitation for interested persons to contact the Local Food Network to learn more about becoming a part of the planning team which is seeking a one-year commitment from team members.