For the month of October students throughout the territory will be eating more local produce as a part of National Farm to School Month.
A collaborative effort between the V.I. Departments of Education and Agriculture, the month will feature a series of events that will teach the local community – especially students – about the economic and health benefits of eating local produce.
According to Sommer Sibilly-Brown, Education’s program manager and Farm to School liaison, “Melonmania” is the program’s pilot program. St. Croix farmers will provide students enrolled in the school lunch program throughout the territory with farm-fresh watermelons every week.
“Really it is one small step in achieving our goal of getting more locally sourced food on our students’ plates,” Sibilly-Brown said, adding there are five St. Croix farmers participating in the pilot program.
Bringing local food to the territory’s schools has a number of health and educational benefits. “On the most basic level, it increases our students’ access to fresh food, which increases their access to nutrition and hopefully will impact their food choices long term, making them healthier for life,” Sibilly-Brown explained.
“Secondly it connects them to the land and the culture.”
Sibilly-Brown said that when students eat local food they “are also more likely to consider agriculture, environmental and food-related careers if they have quality exposure when they are young.”
And the economic impact of supporting the territory’s farmers and giving them access to another consumer market cannot be understated.
“The multiplier effects of every dollar we spend locally circulate a minimum of five times before leaving the territory. Right now when we import, we give that magic multiplying dollar to someone else,” Sibilly-Brown explained.
Agriculture Commissioner Carlos Robles and Education Commissioner Sharon Ann McCollum have discussed the program since the beginning of Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s administration and a number of other government departments have been included in the planning process along the way.
“I have to say coordinating it was pretty fun,” Sibilly-Brown said. “Intense at times but when you put five people in a room who are wholeheartedly committed to the vision, things work out.”
Putting more local food into the school cafeterias is no small feat and comes with a unique set of challenges. Seeds, soil and fertilizer must all be shipped to the islands to meet production demand. It’s also difficult to coordinate interisland shipping to get food between the islands.
But financing is still the largest concern.
“It takes money to get a comprehensive program like Farm to School off the ground, but the cross-sectoral benefits are clear and the return on investment is worth it,” Sibilly-Brown said.
For now, the program is building its infrastructure and collecting data to chart a path forward like it has throughout the U.S. mainland over the past decade.
“We would all love to reverse the trend immediately, but we understand that we are building the infrastructure, building farmers’ production levels, building students’ pallets, creating new menus and developing relationships,” Sibilly-Brown said.
For more information on National Farm to School Month, visit farmtoschool.org. See list below for the territory’s upcoming activities.
St. Croix District
– Wednesday, Education and Agriculture commissioners eat lunch at Claude O. Markoe Elementary School at 11:45 a.m.
– Wednesday, farmers meeting at University of the Virgin Islands Albert A. Sheen Campus Great Hall 6:30 – 8 p.m.
– Oct. 17, farmers meet and greet hosted by Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition and Taste of St. Croix, sponsored by Education and Agriculture at Balter St. Croix 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
– Oct. 19, Arthur Richards Junior High School’s poultry farm to sell eggs at the La Reine Farmer’s Market 9:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
– Oct. 27, second annual Food Learn Event opens DINE VI and honors Farm to School Heroes at Estate Whim Museum 10 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
St. Thomas-St. John District
– Thursday, farmers meeting at UVI, Administration & Conference Center, Room 142 at 6:30 – 8 p.m.
– Oct. 13, St. Thomas dignitaries enjoy lunch at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School 11 a.m.