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Zucchini that is harvested for the Farm to School program at Jamestown Public Schools is shown at Forager Farm in Streeter. Special to The Sun

Jamestown, N.D., Farm to School program receives 'One in a Melon' award

Jamestown Public School District has the best Farm to School program in North Dakota, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service.

JPS was one of 50 programs around the country to be recognized with the "One in a Melon" award this week for administering an exemplary Farm to School program. The program helps schools buy locally produced, farm-fresh foods for their menus, and all seven Jamestown Public Schools have participated since 2008.

"Our food service department is enthusiastic about the program and the huge benefits students reap from eating fresh, nutritious, local produce—and it provides a benefit to local farms and the economy," said Shelley Mack, food service director and dietician for Jamestown Public Schools.

A total of 5,254 districts participated across the U.S., according to voting results. Parents, teachers and community were invited to fill out a farm to school census to nominate their favorite Farm to School program in March and April.

Jamestown Public School District's Farm to School program has worked with Hannah and Jonathon Moser of Forager Farm in Streeter since 2014. The school district purchased 1,164 pounds of fresh watermelon and 1,618 pounds of cantaloupe in 2015, and other purchases included tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, potatoes, carrots, corn and peppers.

Forager Farm is a community-supported agriculture grower that provides fresh produce to families with weekly deliveries to Jamestown, Bismarck and Hazen, N.D. The JPS agreement is a side project that has evolved over two years, said Hannah Moser.

"It's been a very positive experience for us as another way to get local food into the Jamestown community," Moser said. "Every year we are able to do a little bit more and it's been really great."

There are food safety and security assurance requirements to be a school supplier and the farm's irrigation water is tested, Moser said. As a small grower operating on a direct consumer model the school program is a late season revenue booster as most other clients are billed in the spring, she said.

Knowing the produce is going to the schools makes the mission of the farm even more exciting, she said.

"That is the whole reason we do what we do," Moser said. "We want to have fresh, good, local foods going straight into the communities to people we know."

The school district has spent as much as $10,000 in local food purchases and plans to increase the local food purchasing budget, Mack said. Local foods are used for breakfast, lunch and in between school snack programs.

In the future JPS will add fresh herbs and produce for salads, Mack said. There will also be more Farm to School nutrition education in the classrooms, she said.

Farm to School programs help kids form healthy habits and learn about where food comes from to better understand the importance of nutrition and agriculture, Mack said. A local food program helps reduce food waste and increases meal participation rates as students become more willing to choose fresh fruits and vegetables, she said.

"It's pretty cool to know where your produce is coming from and know firsthand who those people are that handle it." Mack said. "It is a wonderful process to watch, and we're getting good nutritious vegetables and fruit that taste good."

Jamestown Public School District Superintendent Robert Lech said the One in a Melon award validates the work of the food service and shows that it is one of the best programs in the country.

"Our students have access to fresh fruits and vegetables each day because of the hard work and dedication of Mrs. Mack and the food service department," Lech said. "I would encourage parents to come to lunch with their children and see the types of offerings that are provided to students each day for a low cost."