TENNERTON – Upshur County Schools Farm to School Coordinator Cheryl “Mateal” Poling provided an update on the program during the Upshur County Board of Education meeting and joined the BOE in accepting a check for $54,000 from the West Virginia Department of Education Child Nutrition program.
Poling shared what a large impact the Farm to School program is having in the Buckhannon-Upshur community.
“We have affected more students with fresh, local, healthy food and the opportunity to interact with farmers this year than has ever happened before in Upshur County,” Poling said. “About 2,200 students were served fresh, local food from this county. It was a new experience for many of our students. It is a subtle step, but it has engendered lots of positive feelings between service personnel, the cooks and all of that is so important, not just to the nutritional needs but to the agricultural experiences we want our children to have.”
Poling said the Vo-Ag continues to supply food to Buckhannon-Upshur High School.
“We have a great salad bar,” she said. “We had the West Virginia Farm Bureau donate a book barn to French Creek Elementary School.
“Here at B-UHS, we developed a school-based processing and preservation of local food that was Pro Start based,” Poling said. “It was not just about being knowledgeable about the institutional procedures and processes – it was about ensuring that a very limited [amount of] fresh food would be maximized throughout the year with all of the issues we have in our world today. That may seem like a small step, but that is a great beginning for a new program here.”
Poling said at Washington District Elementary School, there was a career agricultural day, and the FFA and local farmers participated in the day event.
“We were able to do two pop-up markets this year, and this is an excellent opportunity to connect the farmers with students to strengthen the students’ appreciation and understanding, not just of food sources, but entrepreneurship and show the effort it takes to put food on the table,” she said. “The Agricultural Trailer kicked off at French Creek Elementary School, and this year that has been increased to include three schools. It is a very all-inclusive, teacher-staffed, five-day immersive learning experience where they have classes, do demonstrations and conduct experiments. Tennerton and Washington District Elementary Schools will have the trailer this year as well.”
Poling said the high tunnel at Washington District Elementary School is under construction, and the site for a high tunnel at B-UHS has been selected.
“Hodgesville will participate next month in the building of their high tunnel,” Poling said. “We want to produce a very beautiful bounty of not just healthy minds, but also a growing spirit. That is not just going to enrich our students’ lives, but it is also going to enliven our community.”
Upshur County Schools Director of Child Nutrition and Wellness Eddie Vincent said they he had an opportunity to write a grant last year.
“We came up with the Farm to School program and submitted the grant to Amanda Harrison, director of the WVDE Office of Child Nutrition,” Vincent said. “Mateal is the only Farm to School Coordinator by title in the state of West Virginia. After we received that grant and at the end of the year, we realized she is far from finished with what we set out to do, so I contacted the State Nutrition Office, including Amanda Harrison and coordinators Becky Lee and Melinda Francis and requested funding for another year.”
Harrison, Lee and Francis attended the BOE meeting and presented Upshur County Schools with a check for $54,000 to continue the Farm to School program for another year. Harrison said she was pleased to be back in Upshur County.
“We are passionate about Farm to School in our office,” Harrison said. “Upshur County is and continues to be a phenomenal partner in this endeavor. We have big dreams, and you all have big dreams. It is amazing to connect. Our goal is to be growing the next generation of West Virginia producers and West Virginia farmers. We want students to see themselves in this process and want them to stay in West Virginia and to consider a career in agriculture, whether that be cooking, dietetics, growing your own farm, starting a small business or [in] agri-tourism.”
“When we invest in these programs, we are investing in you because we want you to have these experiences upon which you can grow and do amazing things,” Harrison added.