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Sibley East creates “a link between the rural community and kids”

The situation in Sibley East Schools was no different than many schools across the country. Kids weren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables and had little knowledge of food production. With the support of SHIP, students, teachers and food service workers started a Farm to School program to change the scene. Tim Uhlenkamp, agriculture educator for Sibley East Schools says, “We talked about what would be a good way to get students outside the classroom and learning about food production through a hands-on experience. The principal thought it was a great idea and it happened.”

For SHIP, getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables is an important goal. Since 1980, the number of overweight children has tripled, in no small part due to unhealthy eating. Getting kids reacquainted with fruits and vegetables through programs like farm to school and school gardens has been shown to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Plus, schools across Minnesota have found this to be a great educational opportunity, getting kids who may have grown up thinking only about French fries back in touch with potatoes.

Two acres of land was donated by the city and planted by the Sibley Future Farmers of America chapter. Among the vegetables planted were carrots, cucumbers, green and yellow beans, kohlrabi, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes and corn. “There were a lot of kids who never planted a plant before and for them to do that was amazing to many of them. I had city kids sitting on tractors,” says Uhlenkamp.

The harvest from the garden includes more than just fresh, appealing vegetables. The students are more willing to try unfamiliar foods, overall consumption of vegetables has increased and the connection between the school and the community has been strengthened. Superintendent Stephan Jones says, “I’m an optimist, but this blew me away -- how successful as it was. From a school administrator’s standpoint it was the best PR we have done to create a link between the rural community and kids in the schools. We had a lot of publicity, but it was seeing the impact on kids and how it has been a unifying thing for our staff. The garden will help incorporate more of that.”

Joan Budahn, the food service manager for the Sibley East-Arlington site says, “It was work but it was fun. We can work magic in this kitchen.”

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Updated Monday, March 24, 2014 at 04:28PM