More than 15,000 students at 32 primary Washoe County schools have begun receiving vegetables produced by the University of Nevada, Reno's Desert Farming Initiative and Lattin Farms as part of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program administered by the Nevada Department of Agriculture's Child Nutrition Program.
The program kicked off last Wednesday at Bernice Matthews Elementary School, where students took a break from their regular schedule to learn about Nevada agriculture and the source of the lunch peppers and Roma and cherry tomatoes they sampled.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program exposes children to a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in the hope that they will develop healthy eating habits. Washoe County School District Nutrition Services Center Assistant Director Mike Supple has implemented a widespread program, the largest in the state, to introduce the healthy foods to students.
Though there were a few students at the kick-off who showed their anguish when they tried the healthy snack, most of the students seemed to enjoy the vegetables and were engaged when learning about Nevada's agriculture.
College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources Dean Bill Payne attended last week's event and smiled as he viewed the various reactions from the elementary students.
"Going forward, we intend to gradually expand our program to engage with more schools across the state in close cooperation with the Nevada Department of Agriculture and its Farm to School and Fresh Fruits and Vegetable programs," Payne said.
The Desert Farming Initiative, which began in 2012, is a collaborative University program between the College of Business, the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station. The community outreach initiative is guided by a committee of University and community representatives, including Rick Lattin of Lattin Farms
"The Fruit and Vegetable Program in Nevada schools is a good example of the ways our community can support one another," said Jennifer Ott, program director of the DFI. "This event was a big step in finding a way that Nevada farmers can regularly provide locally grown, healthy food to our school children - benefitting both Nevada agriculture and the children in our state."
More than 43,000 students in 86 schools are participating in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program this year across the Silver State with a total of $2.4 million in statewide funding.
"Getting locally grown fruits and vegetables into schools is a huge win for both local producers and children in Nevada," Catrina Peters, school nutrition services manager for the Nevada Department of Agriculture, said. "Desert Farming Initiative is a great partner in getting kids excited about fresh, local fruits and vegetables, ensuring they're getting the nutrients they need to be ready to learn."
Located in an urban setting at the eastern edge of the University's main campus, the DFI is composed of greenhouses and six large unheated hoop houses where a variety of vegetables are grown. Last year the program delivered its first certified crops grown from the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station's Valley Road facility to the Downunder Cafe and other dining facilities on the University campus.
The DFI works towards three goals:
•• Develop, implement and provide resources for an educational program in sustainable farming systems for high desert climates.
•• Provide opportunities for research and hands-on educational experience to UNR faculty, students and community.
•• Demonstrate working agricultural systems that address the challenges of both economic and environmental sustainability for the agricultural community.
Along with serving as an open-house learning hub for visitors, DFI employs student workers who help maintain the facilities, harvest crops and contribute to the project's sustainability efforts through participation in farmers markets and produce sales.
The DFI program was made possible by the University's Nevada Small Business Development Center in collaboration with Sen. Harry Reid and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD provided $500,000 to help fund the start-up of the Desert Farming Initiative.