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Hopewell Elementary School recognized for agricultural efforts, healthy eating

From its indoor hydroponic vertical farm to its outdoor garden and its emphasis on incorporating “home-grown” fruits and vegetables into students’ lunches, Hopewell Elementary School has tried to infuse healthy eating habits into children’s lives.

Those efforts were recognized by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture this week when New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher visited the school to present administrators with the “Best in New Jersey Farm to School Award.”

The award was presented to a school-wide assembly in conjunction with the eighth annual Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week, which was held Sept. 24-28.

“From their incredible outdoor school garden to the school’s commitment to sourcing local produce to ‘Take Your Parent to Lunch Day,’ and their partnership with Princeton University and a Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant to purchase a hydroponic vertical growing system, Hopewell Elementary School exemplifies the spirit of this award,” Fisher said.

State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Hunterdon and Mercer) congratulated the students and presented a resolution in honor of the school’s achievement.

“You have done a wonderful job,” Turner said, adding that the children can eat healthy, nutritious food they have grown themselves. Healthy children become  healthy adults, she said.

State Assemblyman Anthony Verelli (D-Hunterdon and Mercer) also congratulated the children and encouraged them to try to new foods, something he admitted he was sometimes reluctant to do when he was young.

Principal David Friedrich said the school strives to celebrate the connection between the school and local farms. It seeks to form close partnerships with local farmers and chefs, he said.

“We embrace ‘Farm to School’ practices, ranging from growing produce in our outdoor garden and indoor hydroponic vertical farm, to its infusion in our homemade organic lunch programs,” Friedrich said.

The school’s initiative has shown children that lettuce does not come in a plastic bag at the grocery store, said Thomas Smith, the superintendent of schools for the Hopewell Valley Regional School District.

The students also are learning about the importance of the food they eat, Smith said.

That message has already taken root among the students, three of whom made it clear they like to grow their own food and eat it, too.

Eleanor Farmer said she loves eating organic food. It doesn’t taste the same as other food. It tastes better, she said. Food from the garden just tastes good and it’s “really fun” to grow, she said.

Sophia Pellegrino said the vertical garden grows vegetables indoors. It require less space than a traditional farm and the unpredictable nature of the weather does not matter anymore.

Elliott Scully said he has been composting in his backyard for many years. The food waste turns into compost, which can be used in the garden.

New Jersey schools that entered the Farm to School recognition program had to show evidence of working with farmers and the community to ensure students had access to healthy Jersey Fresh fruits and vegetables in their school cafeterias.

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