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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

When students are first, healthy food naturally follows

When students truly come first, a commitment to health and wellness naturally follows.

SCSD6 Farm @ Cragmoor
Spartanburg County Schools District 6 (SCSD6) Superintendent Dr. Darryl Owings takes the students-first commitment seriously and leads the district's impressive healthy-food school program. With strong support of the nine-member School Board, SCSD6 ended their third-party foodservice-operator contract in January 2014 and established internal culinary operations.

Bringing foodservice operations in-house was a significant step in serving students healthy, freshly prepared food. Another strong step was entering into a long-term lease for the Farm @ Cragmoor, a sixteen-acre farm on land owned by the Spartanburg County Foundation and administered by Upstate Forever. SCSD6 took possession of the farm in 2016.

The RiA Magazine article, Spartanburg County School District Six: a culture of EXCELLENCE!, is a comprehensive overview of the school district, the Farm @ Cragmoor, and the creation of the Farm 2 School program.

Elemental Impact Visits Spartanburg
In October 2018 Elemental Impact (Ei) along with Ei Strategic Ally Feed & Seed hosted the Ei Exploration of Fungi, Soil Health and World Hunger. During the final exploration session at the Clemson organic-student farm, Feed & Seed Chair Mary Hipp discussed the amazing healthy-food school programs at SCSD6 as well as down the road 20+ miles at Greenville County Schools.

Inspired, Ei Founder Holly Elmore traveled to Greenville | Spartanburg in May 2019 to meet the masterminds behind the healthy-food school programs and tour their respective operations. Mary was generous with her time, connections, and spirit as she hosted Holly for two-consecutive days of meetings and tours.

The May tour group
from left to right: Greg, Mary & Darryl
On May 14 Darryl, along with SCSD6 Deputy Superintendent Dr. Greg Cantrell, hosted Mary and Holly for an introductory meeting in the district's offices. Afterwards, Darryl and Greg took Mary and Holly on tours of the campus greenhouse followed by the SCSD6 Farm @ Cragmoor where healthy, organic food is grown for the school cafeterias. The locally grown, healthy-food commitment at SCSD6 was evident and impressive.

Mary and Holly returned to the Farm @ Cragmoor in August to witness the farm's segue from preparation to fully operational in time for the 2019 - 2020 school year.

A Significant Investment
For the first year, farm staff tested the land to determine what could be grown crop-wise for the official launch as an operating farm in 2017. The SCSD6 Farm @ Cragmoor is the foundation for creating a hyper-local food system for SCSD6.

Lush crop of small, colorful peppers
From inception, the SCSD6 Farm @ Cragmoor was U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Good Agricultural Practices certified. With the land in possession for three-consecutive years, SCSD6 is in the midst of obtaining USDA Organic certification. In accordance with the USDA National Organic Program standards, organic crops must be grown on land that is free from prohibited pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers for three years preceding growth.

With the farm research complete, SCSD6 invested in the farm staff and equipment necessary to fully embark on the Farm 2 School initiative. In 2018, SCSD6 invested in an impressive packing house including a wash line for root crops, an ice machine for packing broccoli & other vegetables, and a dual walk-in cooler system.

The coolers are maintained at different temperatures to maximize optimal shelf life and produce quality. In addition, it is important to store certain fruits and vegetables separately. For example, onions and potatoes excrete incompatible gasses that lead to faster spoilage for nearby produce.

Brand-new refrigerated truck
Only root vegetables are cleaned in the wash line as rinsing fruits and vegetables may lead to earlier spoilage. Thus, field crops such a zucchini, squash, watermelon, tomatoes, lettuces, and herbs are field-packed and washed in the cafeterias prior to kitchen prep. Lettuces and herbs from the greenhouse are transported to the packing house where they are aggregated with the farm crops for delivery to the district cafeterias via a refrigerated truck.

Upon arrival for the August 14 photo shoot, the brand-new refrigerated truck was awaiting its portrait. So new, the truck was sparkling white with no blemishes from general wear and tear. Once loaded with fresh produce cleaned and packaged in the packing house, the truck will deliver the organic food to the SCSD6 fourteen school cafeterias.

In August the foundation was laid and electrical boxes installed for a new greenhouse. While the original greenhouse contains the Farm 2 School program hydroponics system for lettuce production, the second greenhouse is intended for tomato crops. The SCSD6 impressive hydroponics greenhouse was featured in the RiA Magazine article, A Hydroponic-Agriculture Renaissance.

Lisa capturing an okra bloom
Beyond farm equipment, technology plays a critical role on the modern-day farm, especially when maintaining U.S. Department of Agriculture Good Agricultural Practices Certification documentation, planning crop-harvest timing, and maintaining inventory stats. In addition to his field and packing-house responsibilities, Ethan Jarrett administers crop planning, seed sourcing, and production distribution via a high-tech program .

Another investment was hiring Farm 2 School Director Lisa Stansell. Mere weeks in the position at the August-photo shoot, Lisa brings her expertise from her prior role as a Greenville County agriculture teacher to the Farm 2 School program.

In the Field
August was a busy time on the farm as the staff prepared for the 2019 - 2020 school year starting late in the month. With the significant investments made, the Farm @ Cragmoor segued from preparation to fully operational in time for the new school year.

Cover crop on a resting field
The crops planted during the May visit were harvested and the fields ready for a second planting. In August, peppers, tomatoes, okra and lettuces was in full production and the packing-house staff were busy sorting and packaging the clean vegetables.

In the field, workers planted fall crops while mature cover crops rejuvenated the soils within crop-rotation best practices. Over the summer, zinnias were planted as a cover crop and doubled as a cash crop at the summer farmer's market. Lesson learned: plant zinnias in rows so the entire crop may be harvested for market bouquets.

To maintain the farm's high food-safety standards administered by Director of Food Safety and Sustainability Patricia Tripp, a wash station was installed in the field for workers.

The second section of the Ei FB album, Spartanburg County School District 6, are images from the August-photo shoot while the first section is a pictorial recap of the May visit.

SCSC6 is an exemplary model for the magical outcomes when students truly come first.

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