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Darr family donates $500K to SPS program

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The Darr Family Foundation pledged a $500,000 grant to Springfield Public Schools’ Farm 2 School program.

The program’s mission is to provide local food to SPS students, educate on the food system and model healthy eating, according to SPSFarm2School.org. In the past, the Farm 2 School program has launched school gardens, funded field trips to area farms, provided locally grown food through SPS lunches and hosted junior chef competitions.

“There’s this light bulb that goes off in a child when they plant the seed and they go out and water it. And what is growing out of the ground? A carrot – wow,” said Erin Danastasio, president of the Darr Family Foundation board. “When children, in particular, are invested in growing their own food, it is so much more exciting for them and they are far more willing to try these different things.”

Danastasio said the funds would come in $100,000 increments over the next five years, with the first installment next month. SPS spokeswoman Teresa Bledsoe said the Foundation for Springfield Public Schools is the fiscal agent for the grant, which also allows for the district to hire a full-time Farm 2 School coordinator.

The funding comes months after the Darr family donated $6.5 million to SPS and Missouri State University, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. The majority of the funds, roughly $4 million, will be used to construct the Darr Agricultural Magnet School, which will house 50 students each from fourth, fifth and sixth grades. It’s slated to open for the 2021-22 school year.

Kelsey Brabo, the district’s coordinator for choice programs and student experiences, said the Farm 2 School grant will provide opportunities for kids not selected for the magnet school. She said the ag learning opportunities will include field trips to the Darr school.

She said the district is putting a focus on ag education, with Hillcrest High School this school year opening the district’s first National FFA Organization chapter.

Danastasio said her grandfather, businessman Bill Darr, is committed to providing ag education to local students. The family has been a longtime supporter of MSU, as the agriculture college bears the Darr name.

“That hands-on experience of literally getting their hands in the dirt,” Danastasio said, “really starts to get their brains turning.”

Last year, Darr sold southwest Missouri pet food ingredient providers American Dehydrated Foods and International Dehydrated Foods for $900 million to global company Symrise AG, according to past reporting. Darr founded ADF/IDF in 1978 and built the meat and egg-based protein provider to annual sales of $220 million in 2018.

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