The state agriculture department will work to get more nutritious Kentucky Proud foods onto the plates of school children throughout Kentucky in 2011, Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer said recently.

“The Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School Program connects schools with local farmers so students can enjoy delicious, nutritious foods from just down the road, not across the country,” Commissioner Farmer said. “That gives our kids a better chance to grow up healthy, strong and successful.

“When schools buy from local farmers, they also help those farmers make a better living,” Commissioner Farmer continued. “As producers plan for the upcoming growing season, I encourage them to consider working with their local schools.”

In a survey of 109 Kentucky school food service directors completed in January, 80 percent or more said they would be interested in buying lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries and apples from local farmers, and a majority indicated they would like to buy other local products. More than half said their districts are providing nutritional education in elementary schools.

Commissioner Farmer has declared Oct. 9-15, 2011 as Farm to School Week in Kentucky in order to bring attention to the benefits of serving local foods to Kentucky school children.

Kentucky school districts reported about $50,000 in purchases of local food products between May and October 2010. Sixty-seven school districts are members of Kentucky Proud, including the Jefferson County Public Schools system, which serves more than 100,000 students.

The Farm to School Program is part of Commissioner Farmer’s initiative to develop strong local food systems in Kentucky to enhance food security and improve the health of Kentucky’s children. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that, in 2009:

• Only 14.2 percent of Kentucky high school students ate fruits and vegetables five or more times a day, compared with the national average of 22.3 percent;

• 35.7 percent of Kentucky high school students drank one or more soft drinks per day, compared with the national average of 29.2 percent; and

• 33.2 percent of Kentucky high school students were either obese or overweight, compared with the national average of 27.8 percent.

“Farm to School is good for the farmer’s bottom line, good for Kentucky kids and good for Kentucky’s future,” Commissioner Farmer said.