LEE COUNTY, Fla. — The USDA chose the School District of Lee County as one of its 123 projects across the country to help fund.
According to a press release, the Healthy Living Collaboration will use this grant to expand gardens beyond the 48 schools that currently have one. The plan is that they will increase the number of schools that are able to provide food to their school cafeterias.
Environmental Education Resource teacher, Susie Hassett, explained in more detail how the school district plans to use the grant:
“Our most successful Agriculture Certification Programs at Island Coast High School and East Lee County High School will mentor beginning programs, grow seedlings, and build hydroponic systems for other schools in a ‘train the trainer’ model,” Hassett said. “Our experience has shown that teachers need more than funds, they need hands on support to learn techniques, implement systems and follow procedures to equip them for success.”
The school district said they’ve seen more students choosing healthier options when they have a role in the food being served in the cafeteria. Back in October of 2021, when students participated in the “Florida Crunch” event, the number of students at Island Coast High School who chose salad and lettuce wraps increased ten times.
Professors and volunteers of the FGCU Food Forest are supporting the effort, along with 15 other partners, including Lee Health, ECHO Global Farm and Sakata Seeds.
Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilasack, said that farm-to-school projects are increasingly important for children.
“When schools and local producers work together, children benefit from higher-quality foods on their plates and program operators have stable sources for the products they need,” Vilasack said.