Asking kids to scarf down an apple or broccoli isn’t always the easiest task; they’d probably prefer if every food decadently covered in chocolate sauce. However, the increased focus on integrating healthy foods into schools has helped create a farm to school movement helping bring healthy, local produce into school districts across the county. In Rock County, UW-Extension is helping create connections between local farmers and several different school districts.
When I started, we already had a farm to school coalition. I really wanted to help try to make that happen here. After the Rock County Health Department received a Transform Wisconsin Grant, UW-Extension became a helpful partner for the coalition helping lead the farm to school program. Although money had already been doled out by the time I started, I wasted no time offering the leftover money to schools for potential projects.
One school put in an apple orchard, and they got $3,000 for that. It was the Edgerton school district and they have all of their elementary, middle and high schools within walking distance so I worked with some of the teachers there to help their programs.
On a smaller scale than orchards, school gardens are another central part of the program. I helped coordinate gardens at schools in Janesville, Beloit and Edgerton and brought in Wisconsin Nutrition Education Program educators inform students about the benefits of these gardens. Moving forward, I’m trying to also involve master gardeners to create even more bountiful harvests for student gardens.
There are still some hiccups that I and my fellow AmeriCorps workers, Joanne Franzene and Liz White, have worked to solve since the program started. It’s difficult to get a volunteer base or find people who even know what farm to school is or care about what it is. Another common problem is educating the school staff about how to integrate the produce into kids’ diets. When we found out some centers had just been sending the produce home with students, we brought in educators and informed staff about the best ways to include the healthy foods with the student’s meals at school.
One of the main thing I, Franzene and White stress is education. We hope that once school districts better understand how to utilize the program, it will alleviate some of the common issues and help others follow successful examples like Janesville’s district. Trying to use the success of what Janesville School District has done, and showing other districts what they can do. The more teachers and superintendents get to know the program, the more involved they will be and the more impactful the program will be.
“The programs really do look different across the state and that’s a really cool aspect of the program. Fruits and vegetables may still make kids’ mouths curl, but the farm to school program is teaching and involving them in creating a healthier lifestyle. Even if it’s just eating one local apple as a group, as Rock County did during their Great Apple Crunch Day last October, every stop goes a long way towards better health for these young kids.