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Farm to School Program Has Kids Eating Locally Grown Foods

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Schools across the nation celebrate National Farm to School Month and local school districts are no exception. Farm to School programming instills healthy eating habits early in life when most children are adaptable to change. Research shows that when students know the vegetables being served in school cafeterias were locally-grown, and when shown a picture of the farmer who grew them, students’ attitudes and behaviors regarding healthy eating and nutrition can change. An added benefit is that Farm to School programming also stimulates the local economy by supporting area farmers and their families.

Farm to School is a win-win situation for farmers, children, communities, the economy and the environment. In the U.S., the typical food item travels 1,500 to 2,400 miles from farm to plate, which means a head of California lettuce shipped to Washington, DC requires 36 times more fuel energy to transport than the food energy it provides. Research has shown that fresher products taste better too, which encourages everyone to eat more of them.

Fort HealthCare, CESA#2 Cooperative Purchasing, and Town and Country RC&D, in partnership with local school districts, have formed a county-wide consortium: “Eat Here. Eat Well”. Recently, the CESA#2 Whitewater Innovation Center hosted a gathering to explore Farm to School collaboration opportunities among Jefferson County school districts, such as cooperative purchasing and cross-promotion. School district representatives shared current successes and future opportunity for program growth and collaboration.

The School District of Fort Atkinson has embraced the Farm to School movement by serving local apples and Schroeder’s Farm watermelon, and piloting a “Harvest of the Month” program through the rest of the school year. October featured red, white and blue potatoes, and November will bring a feast of cranberries. Community volunteers, PTO members and students from the ProStart high school culinary class worked closely with the district’s nutrition staff to bring “Harvest of the Month” to students.

In Cambridge, a multi-prong approach to the Farm to School initiative has occurred. Last spring, the PTO helped build a school garden in which children, parents and volunteers planted cherry tomatoes, broccoli and butternut squash later served in school meals. To volunteer, visit Facebook.com/CambridgeSchoolGarden

Robin Kantzler, co-coordinator of the school garden volunteers shared, “Being a part of the Cambridge School Garden project has been such a rewarding community experience. The pride they have in providing fresh food to their school is inspiring.”

In Jefferson, an elementary school keeps a garden where kitchen scraps are composted, nourishing the soil and putting the circle of life into action.

The Whitewater Unified School District received a Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) grant worth approximately $750,000 over three years. The district was one of only 76 successful applicants selected from a pool of 585 nationwide and one of only six grants recipients in Wisconsin. The PEP Grant provides funds to local educational agencies and community-based organizations to initiate, expand and improve physical education programs for students in grades K-12. Monies have been earmarked for a school garden project to assist with nutrition education. The project promotes healthy eating, community collaboration and healthy choices.

With assistance from Water House Foods and the district’s Farm to School Committee, Lake Mills schools have been serving local apples since the beginning of the 2011/12 school year. Taste-testings have introduced students to new foods like fresh Wisconsin cranberries and local barley. Table-top displays and a nutrition poster contest have informed students as to the local source of their food. 

Most of the school districts are actively recruiting volunteers. Please contact local school district offices or PTOs to find out how to help. To get more involved with the county-wide effort visit Facebook.com/EatHereEatWell.

Eat Here. Eat Well in Jefferson County is a partnership with Fort HealthCare, CESA#2 Cooperative Purchasing, Town & Country R,C, & D and local school districts within Jefferson County. 

Fort HealthCare is firmly behind Farm to School activities and others that support local farmers. As the organization works towards being the healthiest community in Wisconsin, staff and providers encourage everyone to eat healthy foods that have a limited impact on our environment. At Fort Memorial Hospital, where whenever possible, dietary staff in the Steel Away Café feature locally grown foods in cafeteria servings and in the meals prepared for patients.

For more information, contact Margaret Martin, Fort HealthCare sustainability coordinator at (920) 568-5154.

Whitewater School District is the recipient of a Physical Education Program (PEP) grant that includes money earmarked for a school garden project to assist with nutrition education. The project promotes healthy eating, community collaboration and healthy choices. Paul Majors’ horticulture students have been growing tomatoes in the Whitewater high school greenhouse and plan to raise more vegetables in the spring. This is an exploratory project that will be enhanced over time. Pictured are students (L to R) Cody Boyd and Zach Miles with their tomato plants.
 

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