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Feeding the future

Districts, planters in Farm to School program

Matthew Czaja reaches up to pick an apple at Federal Hill Farm in West Brookfield during a 2008 open house for senior citizens and kindergarteners at West Brookfield Elementary School. The district that contains the elementary school is part of the Farm to School program. (click for larger version)
January 19, 2011
In some local schools and colleges, students may have noticed lunch has been changing, from processed or canned food-like substances to real fruit and vegetables. While most of those are still traveling many miles to get here, a growing percentage is from around the corner.

In his other life as owner of West Brookfield's Ragged Hill Orchard, Charlton and West Brookfield Treasurer Keith Arsenault is one of those providers. Since 1991, he's been sending 20 cases of fruit a week to Amherst College.

"I prefer to deal with a college because they'll take a larger order," Arsenault said. "I think they have the means to put more into the variety of fruit they provide, and a college is doing three meals a day," plus supplying food for frequent events.

That doesn't mean, however, that local schools can't participate. According to the state's Farm to School program website, "at least 100" districts "purchased some or all of their food directly from 95 Massachusetts farms" during the 2009-10 school year. Their list includes several in this area — Auburn, Bay Path, Blackstone Valley Tech, Brookfield, Holland, North Brookfield, Oxford, Quaboag, Spencer-East Brookfield, Sturbridge, Tantasqua, Webster, Becker College and Nichols College — and eight specific local farmers as participants.

But the list needs updating; some, both farms and schools, contacted for this story said they either had never actually participated or had not for years. One school (Holland Elementary) said it had done so under the previous principal, who was himself a farmer, but the current one hasn't continued the program. A Brimfield farmer listed said he's too small to do so; he said he farms less than an acre, which provides enough for his family and two farmers' markets he goes to.

For more on this story, please see tomorrow's Southbridge Evening News.

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