School lunches feature local produce

All the school rules prevent this from happening in Los Angeles. We need some reform so we can get fresh, GREAT-tasting veggies to our youth. PLUS we’d be cutting down on the pollution that comes with moving goods!

For more than a year, students at Wood County public school districts have had the opportunity to taste local produce during their lunch periods. The goal of the taste tests was to introduce local foods to students and food service staff with hope of making them a mainstay on school lunch menus.

Throughout January, students at Auburndale, Nekoosa, Port Edwards, Pittsville, Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids found locally grown baked potatoes in their hot lunch lines. Some of the schools also offered baked potato samples to cold lunch students.

“The more we can help make it easier for food service staff to integrate fresh, locally grown foods into their hot lunch menus, the better chance we have of creating a successful Farm to School program for the long run,” said Sue Anderson, local food procurement coordinator for the Get Active Wood County Farm to School program.

Each month, the Farm to School program helps connect local farmers and school food service staff to bring a new Harvest of the Month product into Wood County schools. The program highlights a single, locally grown fruit or vegetable to taste test. Students, teachers and parents also receive educational materials about that item.

January’s potatoes were grown by Joe and Barb Firkus at Sunny Grove Farms in Plover. Students and families learned about the Firkus’ farm along with fun facts and nutritional information about potatoes in a Harvest of the Month newsletter.

“I think Farm to School is a good idea,” said Pat Mertz, head cook at East Junior High in Wisconsin Rapids. “A lot of our students don’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables at home. They go home and eat fast food. This is a real meal for them. And they do like the fresh fruits and vegetables.”

“Students hear a lot about eating healthy at school,” said Linda Leinweber, a food service staff member at East Junior High. “I think a lot of kids are very conscious of it. We have a salad bar every day, and it’s amazing how many kids go through it.”

Developing a Farm to School network of food service staff, local farmers and procurement organizers is a work in progress, but bringing the baked potatoes into the hot lunch lines is a big step in the right direction. The success continues into February when students will sample locally grown sweet potatoes at their schools.

To get involved in the Farm to School initiative, email Sue Anderson at sue.eric.anderson@gmail.com.

Michelle Goetsch is the media/communication specialist for the Get Active Wood County Initiative. You can reach Michelle at mgoetsch@co.wood.wi.us.

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