Farm to School winners and participants include: (from back row, left) EcoSpaces founding director Frank Mentesana, Philip’s Academy Charter School principal Yasmeen Sampson, New Jersey Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition division director Rose Tricario, U.S. Department of Agriculture Mid-Atlantic deputy administrator Diana Limbacher, (from front row, left) Philip’s Academy 4th grade student Maya Wyche, and New Jersey Department of Agriculture Farm to School coordinator Erin Maguire. ( Courtesy of New Jersey Department of Agriculture )

Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark received the Best in New Jersey Farm-to-School Award for the school’s rooftop garden and other produce-education activities. 

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture presentation on Sept. 23 kicked off the ninth annual Jersey Fresh Farm-to-School Week Sept. 23-27, according to a news release.

“Philip’s Academy’s emphasis on food education throughout the school is the reason the school was this year’s winner,” NJ Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher said in the release. “From growing produce in the rooftop garden, the classroom teaching kitchen, a weekly farmers market for school families and a partnership with AeroFarms, the Philip’s Academy EcoSpaces program exemplifies the spirit of this award.” 

EcoSpaces founding director Frank Mentesana, school principal Yasmeen Sampson, culinary staff and about 40 students accepted the award.

“The ability to have a curriculum that encourages students to incorporate healthy eating habits into their daily routine not only benefits them now, but hopefully well into the future,” Mentesana said in the release.

EcoSpaces education connects farm-to-school activities throughout the classroom curriculum and in lunchroom settings.

The 17 participating New Jersey schools were required to show evidence of working with farmers and the community to ensure students have access to fruits and vegetables in school cafeterias and classrooms. This year, each applying school shared information about school-garden activities and a commitment to taste tests of fresh fruits and vegetables in cafeterias or classrooms.

Schools received Jersey Fresh Farm-to-School promotional materials kits, including a Jersey Fresh Farm-to-School banner, aprons, taste-test stickers, Jersey Tastes posters and seasonality charts, according to the release.

Jersey Fresh Farm-to-School Week is the last week of September, designated by 2010 law. During the week, the state agriculture department showcases schools that connect with New Jersey farmers to purchase local produce for school meals to increase student consumption.

Farm-to-School activities can include:

  • Nutrition education, including taste tests with produce from local farms; 
  • Harvest meals serving products from New Jersey farms; 
  • Farm-to-School curricular tie-ins to connect the cafeteria to the classroom or school garden; 
  • Visits to or from local growers to teach students how food is grown; and 
  • School garden education that ties into what is being taught in the classroom.

Through the Farm-to-School program, more than 250 schools purchase produce from distributors, and more than 200 districts buy directly from farms.

To learn more, visit www.farmtoschool.nj.gov.

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