Oklahoma watermelon grower Bob Ramming wants to see Oklahoma school kids eating more fresh, healthful produce, and he’s part of a program that’s making it happen. Ramming’s family-run operation, Ramming Produce Inc., was the first in the state to be a part of the pilot program that has evolved into the Oklahoma Farm-to-School Program.

“The broker who handles my crop had been involved in a similar program in Texas through the Department of Defense,” Ramming said, speaking from his farm near Hinton, Okla., where he planted 280 acres of watermelons this year.

In 2004, four Oklahoma school districts participated in a the pilot farm-to-school project, organized by the Oklahoma Food Policy Council, a joint project of the Kerr Center in Poteau, Okla., and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. The schools served Ramming’s seedless watermelons for lunch during August and September. The watermelons were so popular with students and food service that in fall 2005 two school districts were added to the four, tripling the number of melons delivered.

Earlier in 2006, the program drew the attention of state legislators, who passed a bill making Farm-to-School an official program within the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture. On June 7, Governor Brad Henry signed the bill into law. This fall, the number of participating schools rose to 343, in a total of 35 districts, and Oklahoma-grown honeydew melons were added to the menu along with watermelons.

Ramming has been able to produce enough melons to meet the program’s expanding demands, saying that it hasn’t changed much about the way he does business.

“We still bring the melons in, grade them and sort them by size. Farm-to-School orders do call for a special box that holds two watermelons, which is different from any packaging we’ve done before,” he says. “My broker handles the nuts and bolts of the deal, making the deliveries to wholesalers and so on. The logistics get pretty involved.”

Though Farm-to-School is a small percentage of the overall produce market in Oklahoma, Ramming says any chance to supplement existing markets is positive.

“It’s good to have a local market and we like to sell locally,” he says, adding that he thinks the program has the potential to expand quite a bit. “It really could get to be a good-sized deal, down the road, based on the growth we’ve seen since 2004.”

Farm-to School has win-win potential for producers and kids, as a new market for farmers and a way for kids to get the health benefits of farm-fresh produce.

“I guess you could probably say it about all of us, but we need to get these kids eating more fruits and vegetables,” Ramming says. “It’s really a good deal for them to have better nutrition, at least at school, though this program.”

Growers interested in finding out more about Farm-to-School can call (918) 647-9123 or go to www.kerrcenter.com on the Web.