Spring is a great time of year for many reasons — the return of warm weather plus the growing season getting under way, and then there is strawberry season!
For strawberry lovers, it seems like it is such a short window of time to enjoy these tasty berries. But for the next five weeks, fresh North Carolina strawberries are expected to be on the school lunch menus thanks to the department’s Farm to School program, which coordinates orders from school systems and school nutrition directors and participating farmers. The program is a partnership between the Food Distribution and Marketing divisions.
“It looks like it will be a record year for strawberry orders,” said Walter Beal, director of the Food Distribution Division, which manages the orders, pick-up and delivery of the berries. “Strawberries are one of the most popular commodities ordered and this year’s order is expected to be around 6,000 flats over the previous record. Altogether, schools have ordered nearly 32,000 flats, which is great news for farmers and the kids.”
School systems statewide ordered 26,035 flats in the 2016-2017 school year, which is the previous record. If strawberry supplies hold steady for the next few weeks, this year will be a tough record to beat, Beal said. Sales have been strong the past two years, with a total of 23,601 flats delivered in 2020-2021 and 24,199 flats in 2021-2022.
Food Distribution drivers delivered 7,217 flats to school systems this week and will continue to pick up and make deliveries over the next four weeks. The berries are washed and served fresh in school cafeterias allowing their naturally sweet flavor to shine through.
The Farm to School program began in 1997 to help schools source more locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables and provide additional markets for North Carolina farmers. Since January, the Farm to School program has delivered North Carolina apple slices, sweet potatoes, beef, frozen blueberries and a frozen berry medley. The next commodity up on the menu is fresh blueberries.