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Imperial Valley Farm to School conference provides expertise in nutrition and agriculture to local communities

Local schools and organizations from Imperial County attended the conference and participated in activities to learn about the importance of nutrition education.

HOLTVILLE, Calif. (KYMA, KECY)- Imperial County UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) and Desert Research and Extension Center (DREC) collaborated to bring local communities together to learn about Farm to School and how they could start implementing Farm to School immediately.

According to farmtoschool.org, Farm to School enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practice at schools and early care and education settings.

Farm Smart is an educational outreach program of the Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville. It began in 2001, started by a National Science Foundation Grant and continues to grow and educate grades K-12. According to DREC, Farm Smart has reached over 168,000 people.

Stacey Amparano, Farm Smart Program Manager, spoke about the two year grant they received in 2021 for over $200,000 and funding from the Imperial Irrigation District. She says this is where Farm to School comes in.

"So we actually worked on getting this grant when we saw the need for increasing agriculture education in the schools, giving the teachers the resources for that agriculture education in schools, but also that need for getting local food to students as far as cafeteria's, food services and food banks being able to procure local food in their food service," says Amparano.

Amparano encourages schools and teachers to bring their students to Farm Smart.

"We do field trips mostly for school students, we do farm tours for the community, we do U-Picks, bringing people to the farm giving them having hands on activities, teaching them about our local agriculture, teaching them about the research the university does and then letting them harvest the food as well," says Amparano.

She says any school in Imperial County can contact Farm Smart to book a field trip. Through the grant funding, they have money to cover the cost of transportation and the cost of the field trip. Amparano says she would like to get more of the 4th-6th graders to the farm. You can email her at scwills@ucanr.edu if interested.

Amparano said today is part of a two day conference and is looking forward to what this brings to the community.

"I'm really excited just for getting these different folks together, you can already see the wheels turning. Some of these school sites like, 'Oh, I would love to bring my students to the farm. Oh I can get produce from you or oh you have seeds that I can have,' says Amparano. "So just these little different connections and inspiration that's coming from the conference, it's so exciting to see and it's why we put this conference on is to create those connections between our community to help them grow their Farm to School efforts."

A big topic from this conference is a California Farm to School Incubator Grant still available for 2022-2023. Public schools and any organizations wanting to help their community prioritize healthy food system projects are encouraged to apply at https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/caf2sgrant/

The deadline to apply is July 6th.

Gloria Morales, a 5th and 6th grade teacher at Mulberry Elementary School says she will take advantage of this grant.

"We have to do our own garden, our own crops, so that's one of the things I want to implement at the school site," says Mulberry.

Dr. Yu Meng, UCCE Youth, Family, and Community Advisor says this conference has very important information and wants everyone to know how they can implement Farm to School efforts and learn about food security.

"I hope everyone can learn about what is Farm to School and what Farm to School resources are out there," says Meng.

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Vanessa Gongora

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