Miller works with JL Foods of South Charleston, which helps the school system coordinate with the farmers and the cooperatives.
"Diane and I have gotten together and we've pretty much made a list of things that we have available locally," said Jim LeFew of JL Foods. "We send it out to the school cooks so they're not double ordering from U.S. Foods."
And its not just vegetables -- LeFew also supplies the schools with bread made from West Virginia wheat, salsa made from local tomatoes and locally made whole-wheat muffins.
"It started with some green peppers and some eggs, and we've grown because I say, 'Diane, this is available,' and she says, 'OK, let's try it,'" LeFew said. "We'll try some products in the summer and, if they work, we'll slip them in during the school year."
Getting a streamlined system of purchasing between farmers and schools will be crucial for farm-to-school programs to continue to grow.
"Food service directors need to have a common source of contact to obtain product and work with farmers," said Bekki Leigh, a farm-to-school coordinator for the state's Office of Child Nutrition. "It's just not effective to have 40 different farmers contacting directors to sell produce."
To that end, West Virginia soon will have 10 AmeriCorps volunteers working with school food service directors to help establish and coordinate those lines of sale, Leigh said.
While farm-to-school will require coordination in order to grow, that's no different from any other outlet that farms might sell to. In fact, because schools are so large and, let's face it, have a captive audience, they can be more flexible than other buyers, said Tom McConnell who runs the West Virginia Small Farm Center, an extension of West Virginia University.
"If you have one day's worth of cauliflower, you can work with the schools and sell it to them and say, 'Thanks, see you next year,'" McConnell said. "You can't work that way with a grocery store or a restaurant."
McConnell said farm-to-school programs initially provide a customer base for farmers, but also can help encourage students to go into farming.
"We don't have enough farmers, enough producers, enough folks that trust the fact that you can remain on a farm and make enough money," McConnell said. "The school system starts out as a market and then, assuming its role in education, it shows people how to take advantage of this."
The program in Tucker County, although still young, appears to bear this out.
It started three years ago with 21 agriculture students and now has more than doubled, to 50 students.
"The greenhouse is a great recruiting tool," said Terry Hauser, agriculture science teacher at the high school. "We teach them how to grow them, and we give them an avenue to sell."
Reach David Gutman at david.gut...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.