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Nearly 100 SC schools serving locally grown food thanks to $3M grant

Nearly 100 districts have received the grant, impacting about 800,000 students

LEXINGTON, S.C. — At Batesburg-Leesville Elementary School, broccoli and collard greens are a staple on student's plates. 

"They taste really good and they’re healthier, too," said fourth grade student Izzy Belasquez. 

The greens come locally from WP Rawl in Lexington County. 

Lexington School District Three Director of Child Nutrition Todd Bedenbaugh said he makes it a priority to source locally grown produce for school lunches.  

"The nutritional quality is better when its fresher," said Bedenbaugh. 

For third generation farmers like Ashley Rawl, it's an opportunity to connect with the community.

"It's very rewarding; it's one of the reasons we continue to farm. We provide a product that's beneficial to life," said Rawl. 

The farm to school movement is growing in South Carolina schools thanks to a $3.1 million grant from the State Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture.

The grant will allow distributor Senn Brothers to expand their sourcing from small local farms, and to help those farms equip themselves to serve larger scale customers.

"The average food that we all eat travels 1,500 miles. So if we can turn 1,500 into 50, its all the better," said South Carolina's Commissioner of Agriculture  Hugh Weathers. 

According to Weathers, nearly 100 school districts have received the grant, impacting about 800,000 students. 

Orangeburg, Newberry, Fairfield, Kershaw and Sumter County School Districts were all awarded grants.

The amount of money given depends on the size of the school district, said Weathers. Lexington School District Three received about $6,000. 

Weathers tells News 19 the grant targets small and historically underserved farmers in an effort to strengthen the local food supply chain. 

"Hopefully it will be South Carolina farmers supplying South Carolina students beyond the life of this grant," said Weathers. 

"Any of the food dollars that can be kept closer can help out farmers not incur so much transportation costs and decrease carbon footprint," said Rawl. 

In addition to improving Nutrition, Bedenbaugh hopes this grant will better inform students about where their food comes from.

"Hopefully, that will encourage them to eat good quality food and hopefully eat more fruits and vegetables," said Bedenbaugh.

"Less than 2% of Americans are farmers, but we feed over 300 million people in the U.S. not counting around the world," said Rawl. "So, for them to able to understand farming a little bit better is just going to help our country and our communities down the line."

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