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PAWTUCKET - A local initiative that encourages all Rhode Island school districts to promote a culture of healthy, locally-grown foods will be switching hands at month's end. Known as the Rhode Island Farm to School Project, the initiative will be taken over by Farm Fresh Rhode Island when the original coordinating organization, Kids First, closes on June 30.
The Rhode Island Farm to School Project, which was conceived in 2005, pushes school districts to not only buy locally-grown foods for the cafeterias, but also bring hands-on learning experiences centered around food and agriculture into the classroom.
"The R.I. Farm to School Project has offered an incredible opportunity to get fresh food to thousands of children," said Farm Fresh Rhode Island Executive Director Noah Fulmer in a statement.
"Rates of diet-related disease are extraordinarily high among Rhode Island children at the same time that R.I. farmers are looking for new markets for their fruits and vegetables," he continued. "Farm Fresh is excited to foster a love of fresh, local foods in a new generation of Rhode Islanders through the farm to school project."
Farm Fresh Rhode Island is a nonprofit organization that works to promote local agriculture and helps build healthier practices in communities through increased access to locally-grown foods.
According to information released by Kids First, the former steward of the project, R.I. Farm to School has seen participation from all 36 of the state's school districts. The variety of local farm products in Rhode Island school cafeterias has increased from five to 40 different types of food, including locally grown asparagus and berries, local eggs, and Rhode Island-raised beef. also, in 2011, over 360,000 pounds of local farm products were purchased for Rhode Island school districts.
Kids First is also a nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to improving the nutritional and physical well being of children. The organization has guided communities to promote nutrition awareness and education in the state's school and childcare systems, and has also linked with other organizations locally to improve the levels of physical activity, food safety and nutritional health for children.
Kids First will be closing its doors on June 30, and Kimberly Clark, the organization's Farm to School coordinator, will travel to Farm Fresh Rhode Island, which has neighboring offices to Kids First in Pawtucket, as part of the transition.
"Farm Fresh R.I. is the right organization to take on this Kids First beloved project," said Kids First Executive Director Dorothy Brayley in a company release. "The passion, commitment, and incredible expertise of the Farm Fresh R.I. staff coupled with the experience of our Farm to School Coordinator, Kimberly Clark, will be a combination that continues to successfully grow and further develop the R.I. Farm to School project in a way that continues to benefit all Rhode Island children and communities."
Kids First has been working for over a decade, and has an outgoing message posted on it's website in the final days before it closes.
"After nearly 15 years of working in R.I. schools, striving towards our mission to improve the well-being of all R.I. children, Kids First would like to offer a tremendous and heartfelt thank you to everyone who participated in empowering a R.I. school community to take charge of their health and wellness," the message reads.
According to Kids First, the future goals of the R.I. Farm to School Project include expanding the work into preschools, colleges, universities and other educational food service providers.