Assignment: Education- Farm to School

Many of these locally grown, fresh and healthy vegetables will land on your child’s school lunch tray in the fall of 2010.

The La Crosse School District is receiving a $60,000 dollar grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to start what is known as a Farm to School program.

“We’ve connected and met with a variety of local farmers already,” said Joni Ralph, La Crosse school nutrition program supervisor. “So, some are out of Winona, Cashton, Viroqua and then other sources that are coming at a greater distance in Minnesota.”

The Farm to School program allows schools to provide a fresh product from local farms, like Harmony Valley in Viroqua, to their school cafeterias while also educating students on the food’s nutritional value.

“With this particular program it’s my intention to increase the level of fruits and vegetables that our students are eating,” said Ralph. “And so we’ll begin at that spot… looking specifically at what types of things that we can get in the local area here that will be new and fresh and different for our students to incorporate into different kind of menu ideas.”

Some of the cook staff in the La Crosse School District will spend the summer creating and testing new recipes for the school menu that will use fresh produce harvested in the summer months.

“For example, one of the ideas that we had was to make a vegetable confetti recipe which is a combination of peppers, zucchini squash and corn,” said Ralph, “take that and do that preparation this summer; freeze it and then use it in the fall when these products might not be available to us.”

The Holmen School District is also receiving the grant which has allowed them to start implementing food service changes, as well.

“We have in place a contract with a local apple orchard to purchase all of our apples for the 2010-2011 school year from Ecker’s Apple Orchard which is about 20 miles away from here,” said Michael Gasper, Holmen School District nutrition services supervisor.

This partnership gives students more than just a local product. The orchard is offering tours to classrooms who want to learn how apples are grown and it’s also teaching kids the importance of supporting our local economy.

“I think in today’s society with as many processed foods as we have as many fast food places that are out there, I think there’s somewhat of a disconnect for kids where their food is actually coming from,” said Gasper. “And I think this whole farm to school idea really helps kids make that connection.

“In addition, supporting our local economy is very important to us because obviously the local economy support us, as well,” said Gasper.”

So, as this program begins to set its roots in our area schools, districts like La Crosse are hoping to use the initial farm to school grant money in a way that will keep the program growing.

“We’re going in this with the intention of finding systems that are going to work that are sustainable,” said Ralph, “because this community really wants these types of programs and have been waiting for this for quite some time.”