Schools take healthy eating to the next level
More fresh, locally-grown foods will soon make their way into cafeterias in Park Rapids and Laporte school districts, thanks to a $45,000 Farm to School grant awarded to the districts through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The drive to receive the grant is a natural extension of the schools’ work to expand healthy eating options for students through the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP).
North Country Community Health Services Agency, the SHIP grantee for Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard and Lake of the Woods counties, in cooperation with Catholic Health Initiative (CHI) St. Joseph’s Health in Park Rapids, worked with the two schools since SHIP first launched in 2009.
The SHIP collaboration led both districts to start wellness committees that have guided Farm to School plans. Park Rapids School District now has a school-based agriculture plot on its property and has purchased a new hoop house that will extend the school’s growing season. Laporte’s staff attended SHIP sponsored local food service training, and several initiatives were launched after their participation.
Laporte also has tastings of locally grown foods in school cafeterias, and there are plans for a school-based food plot. Students there already have access to locally grown foods, with 10 percent of the school’s food budget spent on produce from the area. With the new Farm to School grant, the goal is to increase the purchase of local foods by 20 percent.
We found that if kids get involved in the growing process they understand that the foods that look less appealing, often the vegetables, can actually be pretty tasty. - RaeAnn Mayer, Community Health Director at CHI St. Joseph’s Health.
The Farm to School grant for Park Rapids Area and Laporte schools is one of 74 projects spanning 39 states to receive funding from the USDA. The award was announced in November 2015.
Farm to School enriches connections to healthy food
Farm to School enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools. In addition to improving students’ health, when schools buy local, they create new markets for producers and contribute to vibrant communities.
“In our planning we found that if kids get involved in the growing process they understand that the foods that look less appealing, often the vegetables, can actually be pretty tasty,” said RaeAnn Mayer, Community Health Director at CHI St. Joseph’s Health. “Kids like to eat things they have helped produce, from planting the seed to harvesting the crop.”
The Laporte taste testing resulted in getting students more willing to sample foods. They also tried some vegetables, including beets, and liked those, too.
The need to change eating habits early in life is there. According to the 2013 Minnesota Student Survey, 22.5 percent of Hubbard County 8th graders identified themselves as overweight.
Efforts like Farm to School should help that change over time as students learn about healthier food options. As a result, the students can eat healthier. Another benefit is that Farm to School provides a new market for farmers with their locally grown produce.