Richland Parish was the recipient of over $26,000 in a grant from The National Farm to School Network. Richland Parish School Food Service received one of two hub grants presented state wide and six presented nationwide. With this grant and local school food service funds, the greenhouse program renovation took place. School food service now has two producing hydroponic greenhouses and one bedding greenhouse.
Through the National Farm to School Network, Richland Parish has hosted approximately seventy-five guest from state wide that were selected as Farm to School Mini Grant recipients. Our guest toured greenhouse sites in Delhi and Rayville. On dates of the tours, our parish sponsored a meal in the cafeteria and our guests were served the Harvest of the Month fruit or vegetable. The Harvest of the Month produce comes from local farmers, Lamb Wesson/Con Agra, or Robertson’s Produce. The goal of our parish is to provide support to our local economy and to obtain farm fresh produce whenever possible.
The two hydroponic greenhouses are in full production. The greenhouse with the lettuces began to produce in late December. To date, 3,000 heads of lettuce has been harvested and delivered to all eight cafeterias. The greenhouse tomatoes have just begun to produce. The average weight of each tomato exceeds ¾ of a pound. Needless to say, the freshness and shelf life of the items that we are currently growing far exceeds purchased produce. The quality of the item is excellent. Our sites are all excited about getting the great salads that we are now serving. The demand for salads is greatest with the athletic department, high school students dieting, and students following doctor’s orders for diabetes, reduction of carbohydrates, and other health related problems. Faculty members have also been ordering more salads and their participation has increased overall. As our greenhouse program expands we would like to include producing cucumbers and possibly radishes; thus increasing the freshness and quality of our salads.
The 2 hydroponic greenhouses have helped our department established ties in the community. Currently we have 3 restaurants buying our surplus produce. One of the restaurant owners, Chef Cory Bahr, who has been named winner of Chopped Season 2012, and Louisiana Seafood King has partnered with our system in some upcoming plans. Chef Bahr has agreed to work with our parish on developing menu items and recipes to make our meals healthier for our student body. Chef Bahr has also partnered with NOLA Tree Project. The program’s purpose is to grow stronger, healthier communities through tree planting. The group has already planted an orchard at a school in the New Orleans area and Chef Bahr wants to do the same for a school in Northeast Louisiana. Rayville High School will be the future site of the next orchard. Plans are underway to set this up before the end of this school year.
At this time, the greenhouses funded by Farm to School and operated by school food service are being used by career path program Jump Start to train students in Customer Service. Also, if a grant initiative receives school board approval, students this summer will be trained in Culinary Arts. Through this grant program, students will also be paid to work in the hydroponic greenhouses.
Stay tuned for future plans on how Richland Parish School Food Service plans to serve more farm fresh produce.