(HOST) More Vermont schools are developing relationships with local farmers and food producers. Commentator Ron Krupp says the trend is a good one.
(KRUPP) In 2002-2003, schools in Vermont spent thirteen million dollars on food, yet less than five percent went for direct purchase of produce from local farms. Since then, programs to connect local farms to school cafeterias and classrooms to farms have begun to increase. Recent efforts have demonstrated that when children and food service personnel have relationships with local farmers and producers they are more likely to try new foods and use fresh and less-processed foods.
The most dynamic farm-to-school program sweeping across the Green Mountains is called FEED (Food-Education-Every-Day). The goal is to work with schools to build connections between classrooms, cafeterias, school gardens, and local farms. FEED began in 1999, when three nonprofits teamed up to address what is now being called “America’s quiet crisis.” The three are the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Vermont, Shelburne Farms, and Food Works. FEED now serves over thirty schools in Vermont.
The main thrust of the programs is to provide fresh, local food to school kitchens. In Alburgh, Jennifer Mitchell, the school’s kitchen manager, set up taste tests as part of FEED. She tried different grains – brown rice, millet, and barley – and fresh local vegetables, including green and purple cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower; fresh fruits; and various kinds of beans. Ever hear of millet and vegetable salad? In Orange, the students created a daily healthy snack menu – from banana nut muffins to smoothies – and apples with peanut butter to veggie sticks with ranch dip.
The Starksboro school built gardens and planted garlic in the fall. The garlic was used the following September in the cafeteria, with more vegetables planted in the spring.
Jessica Simpson and Tracie Surridge, teachers at the Burke Town School, developed a unit called “That Was Then, This Is Now: A Comparative Study of Vermont Agriculture 1800-2002.” Students interviewed older relatives and neighbors about their farming experience. They watched movies and read books on agricultural history and methods – and went on field trips to a sugarhouse, a dairy farm, a cheese factory, a farm museum, and a sawmill. Some of the school children live on these farms.
Bringing locally grown foods into the schools benefits the local economy. Farmers who work with the schools are able to extend the growing season, have outlets for their surplus and a way to sell produce that has surface blemishes but is perfectly nutritious. Healthy nutrition needs to start early, so that by the time the young ones reach their teens they will be making wise food choices.
This is Ron Krupp, the Northern Gardener.
Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay. You can find this commentary and more information at VPR.net.