Local Foods for Local Kids
Imagine a school cafeteria where kids line up at a salad bar that's brimming with fresh, locally produced fruits and vegetables. Imagine that they know – and feel proud – that the milk in their milk carton comes from a Washington dairy. It's starting to happen in Washington State. A program of WSU King County Extension called Farm-to-School Connections Team has been working since 2003 to facilitate discussion between parents, local farmers, school administrators and local legislators. By getting key players on the same page, they've helped achieve major milestones like the recent passage of the Local Farms-Healthy Kids Act, which eliminated significant barriers like a policy requiring schools to sign food contracts with lowest-bidding corporate entities.
But because there are still roadblocks – mostly financial – to feeding school children exclusively local food, advocates push for programming reaches beyond the plate. A holistic approach includes educating kids about the food they're eating, its nutritional impact, and the rich story of the people and the land that produced it. One leading example is the Auburn School District, where nutrition director Eric Boutin currently buys pallets of peaches, watermelons, greens and more to use across the district's 22 schools. Boutin and student helpers have also planted a school garden that produces food used in the high school and elementary school cafeterias as well as in summer meals delivered to children of low-income families.
"If kids are involved in planting, growing and harvesting, and there's an educational component, they're much more interested in consuming it and appreciating a variety of produce," says Boutin. "The garden is a beautiful place to develop that appreciation of good nutrition ad good, fresh, natural foods." Currently, he and other Farms to Schools experts are working on developing more curriculum tie-ins that will encourage teachers to utilize the garden for lessons that can help prepare students for the WASL test.
We're hopeful that Washington's progressive farm/school relationships won't only help farmers and students today … it will leave a lasting legacy of valuing local farms and wholesome food. And that will keep the families of the future happier and healthier.
Why it's Worldchanging:
Small local farms all over the country are in danger. Programs like this not only provide a steady economic relationship that keeps local farmers in business; they also teach kids in and around the city – many of whom have never even seen a farm – to be proud of our local agriculture. And as widespread childhood obesity threatens today's kids with shorter life spans and increased healthcare burdens, serving them a variety of wholesome produce that they can value and understand is more than a treat; it's a mission.
This post is part of the series, "Seattle to the World: 100 Best Innovations from the Emerald City."