Grant to put more locally grown produce in New London County schools

New London - Ledge Light Health District has received a $100,000 federal grant to implement a program to increase the amount of local, fresh produce served to students in 20 school districts in New London County.

Alicia McAvay, an East Lyme native with a master's degree in social work, has been hired as a farm-to-school coordinator.

The grant also will support the activities of the Farm Fresh New London County Schools Initiative, a collaboration of ACHIEVE New London County Coalition, FRESH New London and the New London County Food Policy Council.

McAvay, who will relocate to the area from her home in Portland, Ore., will start the part-time job in early March. She will work for FRESH New London, and her $40,000 salary will be paid for with the grant.

She also will implement a schools initiative project and will work with school food service directors, farmers and local organizations. There will also be programs that introduce children and families to farmers markets, farm stands, farms and school projects such as gardens, visits to local farms and cooking classes.

The goal is to increase locally grown produce in the school by 10 percent and educate children and families on the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables.

"Instead of working side by side, we will be working together," said Cindy Barry, senior health program coordinator for Ledge Light.

The first order of business, Barry said, is to form a farm-to-school advisory council, which will look at barriers that prevent fresh produce from making its way into schools.

For example, she said, transporting fresh produce is an issue for farmers. Also, during prime growing season, schools are on summer break. Barry said solutions could include a regional hub where farmers and school personnel meet, and processing produce during the summer to be used later in the year when students are in class.

The second year of the grant program will focus on developing relationships between farmers and food service directors; establishing a five-year New London County Farm to School program; and establishing an electronic link between farms and schools to make it easier to buy food.

Arthur Lerner, co-founder and executive director of FRESH New London, said the schools are an ideal venue for modeling and instructing young people about healthy eating, environmental stewardship and local agriculture.

"We are excited to be part of this," Lerner said.

FRESH New London is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a sustainable, accessible, and healthy local food system. It manages a 5-acre vegetable farm, urban community gardens, a farm share program, mobile farmers market, and other outreach initiatives.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the two-year grant to Ledge Light in December.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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