Lesson Learned (January 13)

This week we welcome guest columnist Mateal Poling, Farm-to-School Coordinator, Upshur County Schools.

My daddy taught me that everything we need in health and life comes from the Earth. My public school odyssey began at Sand Run School, where my family attended and grandfather, mother, uncle and sister  all taught. The land where the school sits was originally part of my grandparents’ farm. As professional commercial agriculturists, they supplied hot-cooked meals to the workers and executives in bustling coal-mining town of Ellamore in the original farm-to-table model. In later years, my mother and grandma brought special treats, and my daddy hand dug a spring on our property to provide water for Sand Run School. Walking hand-in-hand out our driveway to Sand Run School, I began learning and my sister began teaching.

Growing up, farming and education were two constants, strengthened by a passion for the spoken and written word and keen interest in health. I even represented the beef industry as the Polled Herford Princess! We now own and work on my grandparents’ farm. After 40 years in the classroom, I have been given the opportunity to realize my dream of harmoniously bringing together health, communication and regionally sustainable agricultural awareness and practices to Upshur County Schools.

As Farm-to-School Coordinator, it is my mission to improve alimentary health by modeling local food choices in the cafeteria, train-the-trainer programs and activities about the health benefits and importance of the source and quality of food. In its first semester, our program has had notable accomplishments, including: serving local beef, bell peppers, squash and zucchini; a first-ever local food donation of carrots; held two pop-up farmers’ markets; and three kids markets, conducted by the WVU Extension Service and partly funded by Upshur County Schools, included local farmers.

A 10-item family food use survey was donated by the office of Dr Craig R Dufresne; they will provide analysis, as well. Dr Dufresne is a world renowned surgeon-scientist in the DC Metropolitan Area. This survey has been provided to families and we eagerly await the results, so we can know best how to work together to help our young minds learn and grow!

Going forward, we have challenges to address. Currently, all regularly purchased food in Upshur County Schools, except beef, is non-local. Cooks and other involved staff are not aware that local food is a viable option. Kid’s Markets do not primarily use local produce, but the Pop-Up Farmers’ Markets exclusively feature local food and farmers, who interact with students. Our immediate focus is ensuring farmers know Upshur County Schools values them and demonstrates this by adopting a transparent and fair purchasing schedule and process, so our farmers are able to support our healthy, growing minds.

The Sand Run School represents our local agricultural heritage—farm-to-school as a way of life. The Farm-to-School Program has brought my professional and personal experiences full circle. In my Lessons Learned, the indelible wholesome value of local, ethically produced food and the living knowledge required for sustainable and durable small farm agriculture are the ultimate manifestations of, “Health is the key to life.”


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