It’s a blustery fall day, and two dozen squirmers are gathered around farmer Mark Doherty’s Royal Galas and Honeycrisp apples. “Who’d like a sample?” the Elk Rapids, Mich., farmer asks.
The scene is like a mosh pit: Second-graders swarm and jostle each other to get a juicy just-sliced bite. “Mmmm—this is so good,” says 7-year-old Phoebe Hughes, emphatically.
Turns out, kids are eating their veggies (and fruits)—at least when they’re fresh-picked from the local farm. More than 950 farm-to-school lunch programs in 29 states have children elbowing and jostling each other for locally grown cucumbers, eggs, broccoli and tomatoes.
At the Central Grade School in Traverse City, Mich.—where Farmer Doherty’s Royal Galas are such a hit—kids began eating four times the apples and twice the potatoes after farm-fresh foods appeared on lunch menus. There’s more to the program than the meals served at the schools. At Missoula, Montana’s Meadow Hill Middle School, four garden plots are used to raise strawberries, lettuce, carrots and other foods. The children list the crops they want to plant and plan the garden, then help gardener Audrey Roderick water, weed and harvest.
Ariel Bleth, the Missoula Farm to School Program coordinator, visited the Missoula Cold Springs Elementary School second-grade classroom, bringing along Montana grown wheat. The children helped grind the wheat and turn it into biscuits, which they promptly devoured.
Everyone wins with a farm-to-school program. The children learn about healthy eating and where their food comes from. Their diet is healthier, with produce that packs more nutrition and tastes better than supermarket foods. Local farmers have a market for their crops, and the cost of shipping food, both in terms of money and carbon dioxide emissions, is greatly reduced.
By Dorothy H. Patent and Lori Hall Steele