Bob and Kelli Phillips, the hosts of Texas Country Reporter, have traveled all across our state telling the stories of Texas. Time and time again in these stories, food plays a large part. A thoughtfully prepared meal brings folks together, and knowing that a community member played a part in bringing your meal from the farm to the table makes it taste so much better. Bob and Kelli recently visited a Texas elementary school with the Texas Department of Agriculture to spread the word about the department’s Farm Fresh Initiative.
When Sid Miller became the Commissioner of Agriculture of Texas, he was shocked to find out that across the state of Texas, schools weren’t serving any local products to Texas children, despite Texas’s vast agricultural bounty. That’s when he set the Texas Department of Agriculture on a mission to make sure students had access to food produced right here in the Lone Star State.
Farm Fresh started small, challenging schools to try to serve something locally grown on Fridays. The initiative also encouraged schools to host “Meet the Farmer” events, where the local producers could come explain to the school children how the food made its way into their school lunches.
From there, the initiative has grown by leaps and bounds.
“We have over 55 percent of our schools now participating in our Farm Fresh Program,” Miller says. That works out to something like three million school meals a day. “We’ve become the model for the rest of the United States,” Miller says. “The USDA is trying to replicate what we’ve done here in Texas and take it nationwide.”
Now, when the Commissioner visits schools, the students are excited to tell him about local produce they’ve tasted. “I know that’s something they wouldn’t be so excited about if we weren’t showing them how to appreciate healthy foods,” Miller says. “That ranks up there as one of the things I’m most proud of in my work as Texas Agriculture Commissioner.”
By connecting local farmers, ranchers, and other food producers with school lunch professionals, TDA is supporting student nutrition and fighting food insecurity for the five million students across the Lone Star State. Not only that, but this program helps ensure our local economies and businesses are homegrown and healthy.
Alpha Foods, in Waller, Texas, is one of those Texas-founded businesses partnering with TDA’s Farm Fresh Network. The company’s founder, Greek immigrant George Torranos, grew up experiencing the harsh reality of food insecurity. Understanding this very real challenge is the inspiration behind Alpha Food’s dedication to child nourishment. Alpha Foods provides locally sourced, whole grain pizzas for school lunches.
Torranos’s daughter, Maria Bowen, is now the vice president of Alpha Foods, and she says the company’s partnership with the Farm Fresh Network has been a pivotal step for their business. That the program does so much good for school children as well as benefit local producers makes the collaboration all the more satisfying.
“We love that the Farm Fresh Network also provides education for students to learn where their food comes from,” Bowen says.
Provider after provider shares that beyond participating in a great business opportunity, they’re fully committed to benefiting the school children of Texas. Central Texas-based poultry farm Greener Pastures Chicken has been committed to sustainable and ethical practices from the start. Their partnership with the Farm Fresh Network continues that mission.
Diego Martinez, sales and marketing manager at Greener Pastures, adds that the benefits of healthy foods go even beyond physical wellness. “We understand the impact that good nutrition has on mental health and the ability to concentrate,” he says. Nourishment is important for young bodies, but it’s also essential for young minds.
Martinez is quick to tout the ease with which his business integrated into the Farm Fresh Network. “Good partnerships can be critical to the success of local farms,” Martinez says. “By
connecting local producers with school districts and care facilities, TDAʼs Farm Fresh Network is helping to support and strengthen local supply networks and give local producers the support they need.”
The program continues to grow in Texas as awareness spreads. “It’s been very successful. Parents are demanding it. We just keep expanding it. It’s been a huge success,” Commissioner Miller says.
When Texans support Texans, we all win. Join and support TDA and the Farm Fresh Network as they create a Farm Fresh generation that is homegrown and healthy.