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Celebrate National Farm-to-School Month with ACHRI Projects across Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK, AR. (Oct. 7, 2013) – October is National Farm-to-School Month, a time to celebrate with the Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) the connections that are happening all over the country between schools and locally grown food. Over the past decade, the farm-to-school movement has exploded across the United States, reaching millions of students in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. From school gardens and farm field trips to local food on cafeteria trays, farm-to-school practices help children connect with their food and make healthier choices while also creating new markets for local and regional farmers.

Arkansas is no stranger to the farm-to-school trend, with several districts across the state participating in programs that connect them to farmers in their communities and provide students with access to fresh, local produce. This month, students in Two Rivers School District in Yell County and Danville Public Schools are among those benefitting from the fruits and vegetables grown by a farm in Bismarck.

The Arkansas Grow Healthy Study based at ACHRI's Childhood Obesity Prevention and Research Program (COPRP), directed by Dr. Judith Weber, helped connect the nutrition directors in these districts to farmer Chuck McCool, who sells produce from his 30-acre farm through an on-farm stand and at farmers markets in the area. The COPRP also serves as the Arkansas State Lead for the National Farm-to-School Network.

During a meeting hosted at the Yell County Extension office, Andrew Carberry, program coordinator for the Arkansas Grow Healthy Study, explained that the only requirements for the schools to purchase unprocessed fruits and vegetables from a local farm are that the produce be grown by that farm, and that the farm has a pesticide license if it is using any regulated products. Since Mr. McCool does not use regulated pesticides he is an approved source of fresh produce for the schools.

To provide further assurance of safety, McCool filled out a voluntary farm self-assessment to document his produce safety practices in the areas of production, product handling, transportation, facilities, worker health and hygiene and sustainability. After a lengthy discussion of the price point and other considerations for several of McCool's crops, the group decided to start with watermelons, cucumbers and lettuce.

McCool made the first delivery of watermelons directly to Two Rivers School District the following week, and is planning to make deliveries of cucumbers and lettuce as they become available later this fall. McCool will deliver throughout the fall and has plans to grow crops tailored to the schools' needs next year, including spinach and grape tomatoes. With Carberry's help, both schools will track the dollar amount of purchases from McCool to show the economic impact of the farm-to-school program.

Other districts in the state are also taking part in farm-to-school activities, and the ACHRI Grow Healthy Study and the National Farm-to-School Network will work toward further connections so that children can learn the importance of fresh produce.

The community also plays a big role in ensuring children have access to locally grown fruits and vegetables. Their support is essential! Farmtoschoolmonth.org offers a variety of resources to help including posters, stickers and a "Theme of the Day" calendar spotlighting a different aspect of farm-to-school each weekday during the month, including ideas for how to feature the theme in your cafeteria, classroom or community. So whether you are a food service professional, a farmer, a teacher or a food-loving family, there are plenty of ways to celebrate and get involved this month.

Arkansas Children's Hospital is the only pediatric medical center in Arkansas and one of the largest in the United States serving children from birth to age 21. Over the past century, ACH has grown to span 29 city blocks and house 370 beds, a staff of approximately 500 physicians, 80 residents in pediatrics and pediatric specialties and more than 4,000 employees. The private, nonprofit healthcare facility boasts an internationally renowned reputation for medical breakthroughs and intensive treatments, unique surgical procedures and forward-thinking medical research - all dedicated to fulfilling our mission of enhancing, sustaining and restoring children's health and development. For more information, visit www.archildrens.org.

UAMS is the state's only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a statewide network of regional centers; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute, the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and the Translational Research Institute. It is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has more than 2,865 students and 785 medical residents. It is the state's largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including about 1,000 physicians and other professionals who provide care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children's Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS regional centers throughout the state. Visit www.uams.edu or www.uamshealth.com.

ACHRI provides a research environment on the ACH campus to meet the needs of the UAMS faculty. Research scientists at ACHRI conduct clinical, basic science, and health services research for the purpose of treating illnesses, preventing disease and improving the health of children everywhere. For more information, visit www.archildrens.org/research.

Research programs directed by Dr. Judy Weber at ACHRI's Childhood Obesity Prevention and Research Program are supported, in part, by funding from the Arkansas Biosciences Institute, which was created as the major research component of the Tobacco Settlement Proceeds Act of 2000. Weber is an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine

The Arkansas Grow Healthy Study is supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant No. 2011-68001-30014 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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