Harrisburg, Pa. -- As summer begins, the Pennsylvania Department of Education is encouraging schools, childcare centers, and summer meal sites to join Pennsylvania's Harvest of the Month program and associated programs that connect farms to schools to provide fresh, locally-produced food to students.
“The Pennsylvania Harvest of the Month Program creates opportunities for students to try new fruits and vegetables and learn more about where they come from,” said Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “I’m grateful to the schools who participate in this important program, which supports farmers and producers and provides students with locally grown, nutritious food.”
Harvest of the Month is coordinated by Project PA, a collaborative effort between the Department of Education and Penn State's Department of Nutritional Sciences. The program was launched in August of 2020. Using connections with local farms and promotional materials, it intends to expand students' palates and understanding of locally-grown food.
Participating schools receive a Harvest of the Month calendar that identifies a Pennsylvania-grown agricultural product every month. Facilities also receive links to resources that can help find Pennsylvania farms and growers with recipes that use each item of the month. The Harvest of the Month calendar is also available to view for free online.
“Although the program was introduced at a time when schools were operating under very unique and challenging circumstances, we were pleased to see them embrace the program and find creative ways to implement it, and the feedback we’ve received has been very positive,” said Director of Project PA Elaine McDonnell, MS, RDN. “We hope that as we return to normalcy, implementation will be more widespread. The program is a win-win in that it introduces children to fresh, healthy, agricultural products and creates more market opportunities for Pennsylvania producers.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Health has also supported the program with the inclusion of Pennsylvania Harvest of the Month Promotional Kits. “Ensuring students have access to healthy food is critical to help them develop and grow,” said Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam. “Consuming the proper amount of fruits and vegetables can help students focus better in school.”
Participation in the Harvest of the Month program is not required, but it is recommended. Since its inception, the number of participating schools, childcare centers, and summer meal sites have steadily increased.
“The Pennsylvania Harvest of the Month program is a good starting point for connecting children with agricultural products and serves as an additional valuable resource to those looking to expand existing programs,” said Public Health Nutrition Consultant in the Division of Food and Nutrition at PDE Audrey Hess, MPH, RDN.
In addition to Harvest of the Month, other programs such as the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Farm to School Grant Program, help supply schools with nutritious, healthy, locally-grown foods. The Farm to School Grant Program allows schools to apply for funding to improve access to healthy, local foods and give pre-K through fifth grade students agriculture education opportunities.
PA Preferred labels can help all Pennsylvanians find locally grown and processed products.
“Habits of buying and eating fresh, locally grown foods start early and last a lifetime,” said Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding. “Pennsylvania farmers feed people healthy foods, cultivate healthy economies, and help create healthy futures.”