"They work hard and take it seriously. They're dedicated to having good meals for the students," Wallbrown said. "They like using local producers, knowing they're concerned about food safety. They like keeping the money in the community."
Madora McCarty, one of two cooks at Leon Elementary, said, "This supports the local economy, it's fresher. I think the children will take pride in the food from their own county. Just today a little boy brought in a cucumber that he had grown."
As Foglesong and other farmers recognize that the local food market is real, Wallbrown hopes they'll increase production of the kinds of produce, eggs, meats and dairy foods needed by the school system and time their plantings for harvest during the school year.
For the past two years, former FFA president and Point Pleasant High School senior Wes Davis has supplied all Mason County schools with eggs from the free-range hens he raises.
Some farmers such as Foglesong are already building high tunnels, which are plastic stretched over raised growing beds that protect plants from frost and freezes and lengthen the production season. Peak production is typically in the summer, when most schools are not in session.
"Next year my planting timing will be different," said Foglesong.
The school system purchases locally grown food at the same price they'd pay big food supply corporations. "We'll take out the middle men. There's no cost to truck or package," Wallbrown said.
Because farmers must be reliable and deliver a consistently good product to make the system work, the coordination of quantity and delivery time is important, Rulen said. The state Board of Education recently hired Andy Pense in the position of Farm to School coordinator for the state schools.
Farm-to-School programs benefit communities, farmers and the students, said West Virginia Board of Education Superintendent Jorea Marple as she sampled the school's lunch.
"I've been eating school lunches for a very long time. I've never tasted a tomato like this one," Marple said.
Five Point Pleasant Middle and High School FFA students watched as the children filed past and filled their trays. Although they hadn't grown the food for this meal, they plan to supply their schools with food they grow in greenhouses and high tunnels.
"This isn't limited to adults. We can do it, too," said Caitlyn Parsons, a junior at Point Pleasant High School. "It's starting to grow."
Parsons' words are music to the ears of Wallbrown, Fogleson and other farmers who hope their children see farming for local use as a viable career path.
"There will always be kids and schools and they're going to feed the kids at schools," said Wallbrown. "There's a demand. They're going to buy all they can produce."
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.