When the bell rings signaling summer recess, it also means the end for many school meal programs serving low-income families. According to Crystal FitzSimons of the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), only 1 in 6 low-income children receive summer meals.

“Federal feeding programs are underutilized in the summer when it is more difficult to reach eligible children in need,” adds Erin McGuire, the policy director for the National Farm to School Network. “Hungry children are most vulnerable when school is out, but with the USDA Farm to School Program’s focus on summer meals, we have an amazing tool to connect kids to their community and get more nutritious food on their plates.”

“Kids develop healthier eating habits and farm to school activities also enhance overall academic achievement.”

What are the numbers?

There has been improvement, as summer programs garner more attention, says Clarissa Hayes, FRAC’s Child Nutrition Policy Analyst. A report released by FRAC last year showed more than 3.2 million children participated in Summer Food Service Program in 2014, up 7 percent over the previous year.

According to the National Farm to School Network, summer meal programs are strengthened when they incorporate the creative strategies of farm-to-school. “When kids get engaged in growing food or meeting farmers, they have a strong connection to what they’re eating and program participation soars,” explains Helen Dombalis, director of programs for the National Farm to School Network.

WELL-ROUNDED HEALTH: New Mexico students supported by Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities to prevent childhood obesity and instill better environmental practices.

What is growing?

Through farm-to-school activities, students gain access to healthy, local foods and educational opportunities like school gardens, cooking lessons and farm field trips. Since summer is the most abundant season, it is one of the best times to tap local resources.

Kids develop healthier eating habits and farm to school activities also enhance overall academic achievement. And it doesn't necessarily cost more. Allison Daughtery, school nutrition director for RSU 3 in Maine, has forged relationships with area farms. Says Daughtery, “I can get high quality and support local resources at prices comparable or less than prime vendors.”