PHARR - The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the projects selected to receive their annual farm to school grants designed to increase the amount of local foods served in schools. Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD was one of 65 projects chosen nationwide, receiving funding totaling $44,646 to better connect school cafeterias and students with local farmers and ranchers.

“Increasing the amount of local foods in America’s schools is a win-win for everyone,” said Cindy Long, Deputy Administrator for Child Nutrition Programs at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which administers the Department’s school meals programs. “Farm to school projects foster healthy eating habits among America’s school-age children, and local economies are nourished, as well, when schools buy the food they provide from local producers.”

This money will support a wide range of activities from training, planning, and developing partnerships to creating new menu items, establishing supply chains for local foods, offering taste tests to children, buying equipment, planting school gardens and organizing field trips to agricultural operations, Long said. State and local agency interest and engagement in community food systems is growing. 

"We have been making great strides in educating and encouraging our students to eat fresh fruit and vegetables. This grant will help us further expand our current local partnerships and increase consumption of local goods," said Imelda Palacios, PSJA ISD Child Nutrition Director.

According to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, schools with strong farm to school programs report higher school meal participation, reduced food waste, and increased willingness of the students to try new foods, such as fruits and vegetables.

PSJA ISD provides healthy meals to students year-round as the district also participates in USDA's Summer Meal program, going on now until mid August. 

The district's Child Nutrition Department also hosts tastings at various schools throughout the school year to encourage students to try new foods. Recipes developed by the Child Nutrition Dept. utilizing local products are also shared with students and parents to try them at home. How to videos air on district outlets and are shared on social media with easy to follow recipes parents can do with their kids.

"We try to emphasize the importance of incorporating local fresh products in the recipes, and how easy they are to make at home," Palacios said. "Eating healthy meals contributes to a healthy body and mind, helping our students be more successful in school."

For the last several years, PSJA's Child Nutrition Department has also been recognized by the Texas Department of Agriculture with the Best of the Bunch Award for participating in its Local Products Challenge, which aims to introduce students to local food and support area farmers and ranchers.