District Awarded USDA Farm to School Grant to Expand School Gardens

District Awarded USDA Farm to School Grant to Expand School Gardens
Posted on 08/11/2022
District Awarded USDA Farm to School Grant to Expand School Gardens

The School District of Lee County is excited to announce it has a received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support farm to school projects. The grant will allow the Healthy Living Collaboration to expand gardens beyond the 48 schools that have one now and increase the number that are able to provide food to their school cafeterias.

“The USDA Farm to school grant will provide funding to support the purchase of materials, training for teachers, and technical support to schools across the district as students get outside to reap the benefits of growing healthy food,” said Environmental Education Resource Teacher Susie Hassett. “Our most successful Agriculture Certification Programs at Island Coast High School and East Lee County High School will mentor beginning programs, grow seedlings, and build hydroponic systems for other schools in a “train the trainer” model. Our experience has shown that teachers need more than funds, they need hands on support to learn techniques, implement systems and follow procedures to equip them for success. We look forward to garden events at all participating schools.”

The Healthy Living Collaboration is designed to improve the overall health and increase food security for School District of Lee County students and families. Healthy minds and bodies are promoted by linking multisensory, cross-curricular academics with school gardens, cafeteria menus, nutrition classes, mental health education, industry certification, college & career readiness and community outreach.

The District has seen the direct impact of students choosing healthier options when they have a role in the food being served. During the October 2021 “Florida Crunch” event students at three schools tasted and then named lettuce grown at Island Coast High School “Learning Lettuce” aka “The Good Stuff.” When served on the lunch line afterwards, student selections of salads and lettuce wraps increased ten times.

FGCU professors and the volunteers of the FGCU Food Forest have pledged to support the effort by providing training and student interns, along with these other partners:

  • Lee Health
  • Florida Department of Health
  • University of Florida - IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program
  • University of Florida - IFAS Extension Master Gardeners
  • Florida Gulf Coast University - Agribusiness & Food Forest
  • Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services
  • Florida Agriculture in the Classroom
  • Florida Farm Bureau
  • Naples Botanical Garden
  • Ding Darling
  • Hope Clubhouse
  • ECHO Global Farm
  • Cultivate Abundance
  • Lee County Solid Waste
  • Sakata Seeds

Seeds and other in-kind donations have been received from Walmart, Lowe’s, Tractor Supply and Rural King.

“The expansion of Farm to School is more important than ever for our kids,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “When schools and local producers work together, children benefit from higher-quality foods on their plates and program operators have stable sources for the products they need.”

The USDA chose only 123 projects across the country to award farm to school grants to. Additionally, for the first time, the department is empowering states with $60 million in non-competitive grants to develop stronger and sustainable Farm to School programs over the next four years. Both actions will help more kids nationwide eat healthy, homegrown foods.