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Photo of Philips Academy Charter School in Newark - Click to enlarge
Ag Secretary Kicks-off Farm to School Week Taking Place Sept. 21-25

For Immediate Release: September 22, 2015
Contact: Lynne Richmond
(609) 633-2954 

(NEWARK) -- New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher today kicked off 2015 Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week with a visit to Philips Academy Charter School in Newark to highlight the school’s efforts to incorporate local produce into their school meals program and educate students about where their food comes from.

Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week was designated as the last week of each September by a law signed in 2010 by Governor Christie and the fifth annual celebration is taking place September 21-25.  During this time, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture showcases schools that connect with New Jersey farmers to purchase local produce for school meals to increase student consumption of healthy produce.

“Each year, excitement about the farm to school program has grown around the state with more schools serving New Jersey produce and growing it themselves in school gardens,” said Secretary Fisher.  “Students, like the ones here at Philips Academy, are benefiting greatly from eating more healthy, local fruits and vegetables and learning about agriculture.”

Photo of Frank Mentesana, Secretary Fisher and Joe Zarra of the Department of Education
Frank Mentesana, Secretary Fisher and Joe Zarra of the NJ Department of Education in the rooftop garden.

Philips Academy converted from an independent school in 2013 and has 370 K-8 students from Newark, East Orange and Irvington.  The school has a 4,600-square-foot rooftop garden, started in 2009, that is currently growing leafy greens and herbs as well as some remaining summer harvests.  Lunch is served family style and features made-from-scratch dishes using seasonal, local produce.  

The Academy hosts a unique, co-curricular program known as EcoSPACES, which is committed to providing students with the tools to lead healthy and environmentally productive lives through an interactive approach to learning .  Frank Mentesana, EcoSPACES Director, said the program empowers children and their families with the education needed to be able to make good decisions to lead healthier lives.

“At Philip’s Academy Charter School, we believe farm to school is important because it provides support systems that assist us as educators in instilling in our students the core values of our EcoSPACES Program,” said Mentesana.  “Our focus on food literacy is taught through our various learning environments to enable students to understand where food comes from, the importance of seasonal, local and whole foods, in addition to wellness.  Farm to School is a great resource for these initiatives.”

During the visit, Secretary Fisher was able to visit the school’s rooftop garden and the cafeteria to see the school lunch service. 

He also announced the launching of a new Jersey Fresh Farm to School website at  The website has resources for schools on how to start a farm to school program, where to source New Jersey produce and how to plant a school garden.  For farmers, the website provides information on how they can sell their produce to schools and gives them farm to school marketing materials. 

The website has a listing of farm to school events and news and has helpful links for students and parents.  Also, each month a “Top Tomato” will be highlighted, a person who has made a difference in Farm to School.  In addition, the website links to the newly-created Jersey Fresh Farm to School Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest pages.

“Successful farm to school programs need the support of school administrators, teachers, parents and the community,” said Fisher.  “We congratulate all the schools and farmers across the state that are currently involved and encourage those not yet involved to visit our new website or call the Department for assistance.”