Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky
On May 25-26, 2010, the USDA Farm to School Team met with Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) Nutrition Services Department and their partners to learn, firsthand, about the District’s Farm to School efforts.
JCPS is a large, urban school district in Louisville, Kentucky, that enrolls 98,000 students and serves over 61,000 lunches every day. Approximately 62 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals. The District’s impressive Nutrition Service Center is a 68,000 square-foot warehouse and central kitchen, which is used to distribute and prepare meals for the District’s 144 schools. Every school has an operational kitchen where meals are received from the central kitchen, assembled, heated and served.
In 2007, JCPS kicked off their local purchasing initiative by reaching out to an apple producer located approximately 20 miles from the City of Louisville. They successfully made a single bulk purchase for enough apples to serve one to each student in all 144 schools. Building on this initial success, JCPS has increased the variety and volume of local food used in the school nutrition programs; expanded Farm to School education programs; and established a number of community and business partnerships.
Food service personnel value the strong working relationships they have with distributors and local farmers. In addition to an occasional bulk purchase of apples, the school district contracts with five local produce distributors to fill regular orders placed by school kitchen managers. In order to meet JCPS demand for local produce, the distributors partner with local farmers. To help facilitate this process, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture organizes an annual Grower-Buyer meeting to give local farmers, school district personnel, distributors, and other key stakeholders an opportunity to meet and discuss marketing opportunities.
In conjunction with purchasing locally grown produce, agriculture and health education is an important Farm to School component at JCPS. Currently, there are approximately 70 school gardens in use by students from kindergarten to grade 12. The garden programs receive grant support and technical assistance from local nonprofits. The gardens are used for educational programs, and on a very limited basis, students and teachers grow cherry tomatoes and a variety of herbs to sample in the classroom. Starting in the 2011-12 school year, JCPS plans to enlist multiple school gardens to grow herbs (e.g., basil or rosemary) in order to scale-up production for use in the school lunch program.
To supplement the school garden program, JCPS offers students farm-based learning experiences in partnership with a local nonprofit. Students involved with this program attend daylong hands-on educational programs at a local farm. The programs support curriculum standards set by the Kentucky Department of Education and incorporate several subjects including science, language arts, practical living, social studies, and math. Grant funds help offset program fees and transportation costs. Based on lessons learned from initial farm trips, JCPS hopes to expand this component in the years to come.
Julia Bauscher, the District’s School Nutrition Services Director, states, “Farm to School doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing.” Bauscher’s realization embodies JCPS’ incremental approach to local food and also suggests that a small change, one or two local products in a handful of schools, is a worthwhile practice. JCPS staff and partners are committed to increasing access to fresh, healthy food and helping students better understand where food comes from. As a result, JCPS’s Farm to School efforts are blossoming throughout the district.