CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If farmers in Putnam County started supplying schools with food, it would benefit everyone, according to Chuck Talbott, the county's WVU Extension Agent.A meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Putnam County Courthouse to "blow the horn" and get farmers, 4-H and FFA members and school officials excited about the state Department of Education's "Farm to School" initiative.Talbott wants Putnam schools to start the program next year, which he said is already a success in neighboring Mason County."It's a win-win for everyone," Talbott said. "Students will have the chance to learn about farming, and it's a chance for farmers to make a living."In the past few decades, local farmers have moved away from growing foods for local production, partially because the market consisted mainly of what they could sell at roadside stands and farmers' markets. If they are guaranteed a local market like the school system, they'll grow more produce because they know it will sell."[Farmers] would have a constant demand with school kids. They need to eat," Talbott said.Student groups participating in the project would work with local farmers, teachers and extension office personnel to learn how to grow produce or meat to sell to their school cafeterias, keep records and determine the costs of production and learn management practices to provide products in a timely fashion, according to Talbott.A chapter of the FFA was recently started at the new Buffalo High School, which recently began an agricultural science course, and Putnam County has numerous 4-H groups, he said."This is a really excellent opportunity to get the local farm initiative movement going," Talbott said.
Putnam County Schools Superintendent Chuck Hatfield is interested in learning more about the program."There has been some discussion, but I don't know enough about it or exactly how it would work," he said.That's what next week's meeting is for, Talbott said, "to work this out.""Let's start getting soil tests done this fall ... get ready for next year," he said.Grants are available to cover what school systems spend purchasing from local farmers, according to Talbott."The Board of Education gets paid back for the local foods they buy," he said. "We want people to know this is available to us. Let's get excited about it."
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