By NICOLE DAO
EDGEWOOD, Md. (Sept. 14, 2010)—School lunch is getting a healthy and fresh makeover this week as part of the third annual Maryland Homegrown School Lunch Week at Edgewood Elementary School in Harford County.
State Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance joined local farmers and school officials at Edgewood Friday to spread awareness about healthy eating habits and supporting Maryland farmers.
"We feel it's very important to educate our children where their food comes from," Hance said.
Edgewood is one of hundreds of public schools across Maryland that will be receiving fresh, Maryland grown fruits and vegetables this week for lunch as part of the initiative.
The Maryland Homegrown School Lunch Week is an element of the Jane Lawton Farm to School Program, which was signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley in 2008.
About 20 public school systems participated the first year, but this year, all 24 school systems participated in the program, Hance said.
Students are learning about the benefits of buying locally, which include the use of less fuel for transportation and improved food safety.
Officials emphasized the importance of supporting local farmers by learning about where their food comes from and how it's grown.
"We need to make sure that we celebrate those farmers," said Thornton, who also noted that supporting local farmers helps the local economy. For lunch, students enjoyed freshly picked corn on the cob, green beans and fresh fruits, all grown on local farms, including Jones Family Farm in Edgewood, Wilson Mill Orchards in Darlington and Susquehanna Orchards in Delta, Penn. Maurice Jones of Jones Family Farm provided the school with dozens of ears of corn, which were picked two hours prior to the event, for a shucking demonstration.
"I think it's wonderful to educate the children about fresh produce," Jones said.
"They get a real connection when they see the farmer," said Hance, who urged students to ask their parents to support their local farmers by shopping at farmers' markets.
Hance said children are beginning to appreciate locally grown foods not only because they are nutritious, but also because they have better taste and flavor since they traveled less time and distance.
"Eating fresh is going to be much better for health," Jones said. "If you put good stuff into your body, good things will happen to you."
Principal Lisa Sundquist also emphasized the importance of educating children about the benefits of eating healthy at a young age so they experience the benefits throughout their lives and pass that knowledge on to the next generation.
"Most of (the children) get their main source of nutrition from schools," Sundquist said. "We're feeding and educating them to become smart consumers."
Sundquist and other officials said they hope the program's message resonates with students so they can carry on better eating habits and practices in the future.
"We hope the program translates into the children, and they appreciate the benefits in the long run," Hance said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.