A renewed focus on agriculture in Pennsylvania schools is generating locally produced foods to help boost food security and nutrition for children while likely sparking more understanding and interests in an industry that employs nearly 600,000 people across the state.

“Empowering students to know where their food comes from is one of the most powerful tools we can provide to today’s youth,” Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said during a recent briefing on the state’s Farm to School efforts.

The number of agricultural education programs in schools is increasing, according to a recent census conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Pennsylvania, more than half of the programs surveyed have been in operation for less than three years and nearly 81 percent of the programs are serving local, farm fresh food, surpassing the national average of 76 percent serving local food.

Among the school programs in Pennsylvania, 27 percent have built gardens to raise foods that can be shared, and 73 percent serve local milk each week.

“Schools across the commonwealth are producing opportunities to help students explore and experience the many ways the agriculture industry impacts all of our lives,” said Vonda Ramp, Pennsylvania director of Childhood Nutrition Programs. “At the center of this important work is Farm to School programming, which also creates connections and builds pathways to a variety of rewarding careers.”

State officials said they hope these efforts do spark interests in future agricultural careers because Pennsylvania’s agriculture workforce is facing substantial reductions over the coming years, resulting from retirements as the current workforce ages.

Pennsylvania agriculture is a $132.5 billion industry, employing more than 593,000 people and generating nearly $33 billion in wages.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bill now includes a $500,000 annual allocation for Farm to School grant projects in classrooms across the state. As Redding notes, this is a “direct investment in both the health and wellness of children and the security of agriculture’s workforce, and therefore food, in the future.”

There are few investments more important than that.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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