SPRINGFIELD - Shanel Samuels wants to grow up big and strong.
That's why the Springfield Elementary first-grader picked out not one, but two apples to take home from the school's farmers' market Tuesday morning.
"They're my favorite," she said, proudly holding up the fruit. "They're delicious, and they'll make you big and strong, like milk."
October is National Farm-to-School month, and Chartwells, Bay District Schools' food service provider, held small farmers' markets at elementary schools across the state to let students see and purchase fresh produce. In a school with a particularly
high free and reduced-lunch population, Chartwells Regional Marketing Manager Amanda Blank said many of the students probably have never been to a farmers' market, and the experience can help lay the groundwork for lifelong healthy eating.
"This is about showing kids the connection between what they're eating and where it comes from," she said. "We want to celebrate these connections in a big way."
Chartwells already provides a mix of locally sourced produce in school cafeterias by working with distributor City Produce. Tanya Wiley, City Produce's sales manager, said they either buy directly from local farms or by using the PRO*ACT buying group, who links local farms to distributors. Wiley said over the last few years, there's been a big push for farm-to-table and everywhere from restaurants to school cafeterias are hearing the call.
Mack Glass, owner of Cherokee Farms in Jackson County, has been supplying the district with Satsuma mandarins - a type of easy-to-peel citrus perfect for elementary school students - for the last three years. Satsumas are in season starting in November, and he said the partnership ensures fresh, in-season produce even in the winter, when fruit can be scare.
"Chartwells has been one of our biggest customers," Glass said, adding that he was "really proud" to have his fruit available in schools.
At the farmers' market Tuesday, students were given $2 in "play money" to pick out two pieces of fruit. Most stuck to the familiar - apples and bananas - but a few confused fresh cucumbers for pickles, the carrots remained largely untouched, and one overzealous student wanted to buy a small decorative pumpkin.
"It's just a tremendously educational experience for them," said Chartwells District Manager Julio Narvaez.
Panama City News Herald