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Farm to School grant brings in more fresh food to Ferguson-Florissant district

A vendor sells vegetables from Ferguson's EarthDance Farms at a weekly farmer's market.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
A vendor sells vegetables from Ferguson's EarthDance Farms at a weekly farmers' market.

Students at Ferguson-Florissant schools will see more locally grown produce in their lunches this year, after winning a Farm to School grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  

The grant adds $91,500 to an existing program that works like a small business: The district hires high schoolers to prepare produce from local farms for the district’s schools to serve during student lunches. Shifts begin after school hours, and at $10 an hour, wages are competitive with other after school jobs.

“This past year we turned tomatoes into marinara sauce and sweet potatoes into sweet potato coins. I’m pretty excited to say we’re actually still using those products on our menu that were processed over the summer," said district coordinator Kelly Bristow, during a conference call Tuesday.

The grant will also pay for student field trips and for installing raised garden beds, one of which will be on district property.

“Students are increasingly removed from the act of agriculture. This is one great way for Ferguson to reinforce for its students where its food comes from,” said Deborah Kane, who directs the USDA’s Farm to School program.

A big selling point for the district to receive this grant is that it offers free lunch to all students, regardless of income, Kane said. This federal program, called the Community Eligibility Provision, has also been implemented by Riverview Gardens, Normandy, Jennings and St. Louis Public Schools. 

St. Louis University Professor Steve Jenkins, who helps train the students, said this funding is what they need to make the program sustainable. 

“If local is a luxury it isn’t going to last very long. So we need to figure out how to process the food and drive the cost so it can compete against bulk products that they would buy otherwise,” Jenkins said.

This spring, students at the 24 Ferguson-Florissant schools can expect to see local greens like kale and collards, Jenkins said. Baked goods and applesauce may also be on the horizon.

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB