In northwest Ohio, farming is a way of life. And that way of life fuels every other way of life out there, as children in Williams County schools learned this month.
National Farm to School Month has students consider where their daily food comes from and focus on those healthy options produced locally, in their own backyards. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 42 percent of more than 40,000 schools surveyed take part in some form of farm-to-school practices, utilizing local crops and 17,089 schools surveyed offered healthy, local options with their salad bar.
Throughout the month, local students in Northwest Ohio Community Action Commission’s head start program have taken part in numerous lessons and seed-planting activities, as did Central Local Schools, which recently held its own simultaneous “apple crunch” to commemorate the occasion.
On Friday, head start students visited Votaw Farms in Pioneer, which supplies apples to nearby North Central Local Schools. They were just the latest in a national program that involves 23.6 million children each year to get in on the fun, petting animals, picking apples and pumpkins and venturing into a corn maze with their teachers.
The day was facilitated locally by the Ohio State University Extension, through Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program education program assistant Becky McGuire, who helped students celebrate at the head starts, as well as Edon and Montpelier.
“We’re doing this so they can see, even at an early age, where their food comes from. There’s a lot of disconnect now, even as kids get older,” said McGuire. “And we live in a rural area so maybe it’s not quite as pertinent in terms of need, but it’s good for kids to see where their food comes from.
“It’s for them to see who grows it, how it grows ... Here’s a real orchard that’s local, and a big part of what we do is to try to get kids and people to eat locally, sometimes, that’s fresher food and it supports local farmers.
“And if they see the process,” she said, “sometimes they’re more apt to try it.”
Teachers at Pulaski Head Start were on board with the initiative.
“(Students) are getting experience with animals. How to actually garden is what we were hoping to learn, and it’s a day away from school,” said teacher Abby Bates. “They’re from a farming community, that’s their biggest thing. They need to know about where they live.”
As she spoke, kids darted about, picking pumpkins, chomping down on apples, petting farm animals and treading bravely into corn mazes.
“It gets kids picking up this kind of thing, hopefully, over a bag of chips,” said McGuire. “It sounds cliche, but it’s planting a seed.”