Supporting students, local farms
Rippleside Elementary’s positive behavior program “Catch the Wave” focuses on teaching and reinforcing school-wide behavioral expectations. January’s Catch the Wave theme is “Healthy relationships.” But another healthy wave is roaring through Rippleside – Farm to School (Farm2School) which focusses on healthy nutrition.
Farm2School programs promote healthy eating habits, support neighboring small and midsized farmers, and build the local economy. Plus, they offer important learning opportunities for students in the cafeteria, in the classroom and in the community.
Amy Wyant, Aitkin County Public Health educator and Farm2School coordinator, teamed with Rippleside head cook, Wanda Blakesley, to coordinate the meals.
“Working with Wanda has been terrific,” said Wyant. “She understands the value of her leadership role in providing nutritious foods to our Rippleside students. Wanda’s team interacts with every student on a daily basis which has an extremely positive impact on kids’ attitudes toward health, food, and nutrition.”
Studies show that students eat more fruits and vegetables when they are fresh and picked at the peak of their flavor. Students are also more likely to try new foods that are part of the Farm2School program.
“Farm2School has been a very positive experience over the past few months. The students, parents, and teachers anticipate this day each month. It has been such a wonderful experience meeting our local farmers. I truly believe this will continue each month for years to come,” said Rippleside principal Jesse Peterson. “This program brings local farmers into Rippleside, creating a connection between the students and the farmers when the farmers greet and explain their products to the kids. It also helps teach literacy about healthy food choices,”
Farm2School partnerships have flourished in Minnesota. In 2006, fewer than 20 school districts were engaged in farm to school practices. According to the USDA’s Farm2School 2011-12 Census, Minnesota school districts spent $12 million on local foods. At that time, 208 districts, which included 1,351 schools, fed nearly 610,000 students.
Fresh, healthy menu items, school gardens, classroom curriculum, and interaction among nearby farmers and community became components of the program. Area farmers provided an array of fruits, vegetables, grains, wild rice, and many other high-quality foods.
The most recent census shows 72 percent of Minnesota schools now participate in Farm2School activities and an additional eight percent plan to start a program.
The Farm2School program at Rippleside was initiated in 2014; however, by September 2015, Blakesley and her staff were able to offer the first Farm2School lunch procured from local farmers – a fajita with chicken, heirloom tomatoes, other veggies from Sprout in Brainerd, and apples. Except for the veggies from Sprout, all of the other foods were grown or raised by Aitkin County farmers.
The fall harvest October menu featured turkey and wild rice; November’s meal was fresh chicken, potatoes, and apples while in December, many children dined for the first time in their lives on lamb. January’s menu, served on the 21st will include meatballs with gravy over noodles and oatmeal cookies for dessert.
During the fall harvest lunch in October, all students and staff received “I dig my farmer” t-shirts funded by a grant through Healthy Northland and Aitkin County Public Health.
The program is funded by Healthy Northland through SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Program) and the Aitkin School District in collaboration with Aitkin County Environmental Services, the public health unit of Aitkin County Health and Human Services, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. The Minnesota Department of Health recently announced that it has awarded $1.3 million over the next two years in funding through SHIP to Healthy Northland. The funding will be used in Aitkin County to support better health for all residents.
Coming up on the menu:
February: Oink-Oink farm lunch: fresh baked ham, baked potato with sour cream, fresh pineapple
March: pulled pork sandwiches on whole wheat buns, baked potato chips, fresh veggies
April: chicken fajita on whole wheat tortilla, fresh veggies
May: picnic day with grilled hamburgers, baked potato chips, watermelon, smoothie bar
History of Farm2School
The National Farm to School (Farm2School) Network sprouted in 1996-1997 from the desire to support community-based food systems, strengthen family farms, and improve student health by reducing childhood obesity. In 2004 the National Farm to School Program was officially authorized, and included 400 programs in 22 states. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 formally established a Farm to School Program within USDA to improve access to local foods in schools. By 2012 approximately 40,000 schools in all 50 states participated in the program.
Most recent statistics show the 42,173 schools participating in the program this year have invested $598 million, an increase of $212 million, in local communities.
Farm2School is a program in the United States through which schools buy and feature locally produced, farm-fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables, eggs, honey, meat, and beans on their menus. Schools also incorporate nutrition-based curriculum and provide students with experiential learning opportunities such as farm visits, garden-based learning, and recycling programs. As a result of Farm2School, students have access to fresh, local foods, and farmers have access to new markets through school sales. Farmers are also able to participate in programs designed to educate kids about local food and agriculture.
Farm to School provides a model for positively influencing children’s eating habits through school cafeteria improvements, hands-on nutrition education, and community involvement. The last decade has witnessed a tremendous spike in nutrition - and health-related diseases in the country, especially those affecting children. In response, there have been numerous initiatives undertaken to combat the growing rates of childhood obesity targeted at changes at the school, community and individual levels. Farm2School is one such initiative, and it also has the added benefits of supporting small farmers, local agriculture, and local economies.
School garden, orchard lead the way
In October 2010, planning began for the development of a school garden and apple orchard, and in the spring of 2011 the first seeds were sown in the NutriMan Garden which is used as a teaching tool for nutrition education and expanding students’ appetites for fresh fruits and vegetables.
During the 2014 growing season, 1,027 cups of quality foods were processed and used as healthy snacks for kindergarten and first graders. Eighty-eight cups of herbs were processed and used in Rippleside school lunches. Recently, a partnership between Riverwood HealthCare Center and Rippleside was launched to provide processed herbs to Riverwood.
Students and staff are responsible for the garden throughout the school year, but during the summer months, families and friends of Rippleside adopt and care for the garden.
Cucumbers, rhubarb, green peppers, tomatoes, green beans, cabbage, watermelon, onions, carrots, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, pumpkins, asparagus, and herbs were planted in 2015 under the leadership of Lorelie Robinson. Nearly 600 cups of quality foods were processed.
To support the sustainability of the NutriMan Programs, Jenny McGuire was appointed program director and Wanda Blakesley is the processing coordinator.
Comments on the program
• Farmer Roger Markell from Gun Lake Potato Farm stated that it was a humbling yet enjoyable experience to participate in the Farm2School program. “Teaching the value of food nutrition is so important in our society and just may be a way to short circuit the need to go to the pharmacy for pills by eating more local nutritious foods.”
• Kindergarten teacher Gina Ostrowski said that her fifth grade daughter Emma had this to say, “Mom, today’s Farm2School lunch was hands down the best meal we have ever had in school.”
• “What I enjoy most about Farm2School lunches is getting to try new things that you might never have thought you would like. I especially like the potatoes and the chicken. Farm2School rocks.” – Julia P.
• “I enjoyed meeting the farmers, the food is great, especially the pumpkin bars and chicken.” – Charlotte O.
• “I liked the lamb gyros; I had never tasted lamb that good; it’s real food.” – Blaise S.
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