BY: Michelle Howell, Need More Acres Farm, Allen County
One of the first things we noticed after moving to Allen County is that the school systems were already doing an excellent job including fruits and vegetables on the menu in their lunchrooms. They were also sourcing some of those items through local farmers. After connecting with professionals working at the extension office, health department and school systems we were excited to jump in and get involved any way we could. We had been selling watermelon to the Bowling Green City Schools for several years, so that seemed like the perfect place to start. We were invited to attend the schools back to school bash, sample watermelon and get to know the community. It was an exciting time as we shared the wide variety of fruits and vegetables grown on our farm. When school starts, watermelons are one of the first items on the menu in the school cafeteria.
We’ve watched the food system in Kentucky evolve and change. With 1 in 6 children in Kentucky experiencing hunger, our partnership with the farm to school program is one of the most important ways for our farm can do good. When we include programs that involve children we expand the reach of nutrition programs far and wide into a community.
Outside of food service in the lunchroom, we were able to create a partnership between the Allen County Schools Food Services Department, the CORE and Dumont Hill Park in 2016 which allowed kids in Allen County to learn more about fresh farm-grown fruits and vegetables. The summer taste tasting and mini farmers market—an educational component of the Summer Feeding Program in Allen County—-was made possible by a Food Services Grant designed to introduce students to fresh Kentucky Proud products grown at a local farm. Additionally, locally grown vegetables were made available at summer feeding sites throughout Scottsville.
“This activity was made possible by the fiscal year 2016 Farm to School Mini-Grant,” noted Mary Hobdy, former Food Services Director for Allen County Schools. “We want these kids to learn more about fruits and vegetables that have been grown on a Kentucky Proud farm right here in Allen County.”
“The Farm to School program is a great asset for Allen County schools. Because of the program, many of our students have been afforded the opportunity to try new fruits and vegetables that they may not have otherwise had. Locally grown produce is more nutritionally dense because it is consumed more quickly following its harvest, so children get more of a nutritional benefit. Students also gain more insight as to where and how fruits and vegetables are grown. Utilizing locally grown foods is a win-win for our local schools, farmers, and community.” – Amy Meador, Dietitian (Allen County Health Department)
In the classroom, we provide taste testing of various fruits and vegetables throughout the year. We specifically offer unique vegetables that the students may have never tasted before. Our focus is on those that can be grown during fall, winter and spring months while school is in session. Students sample brussel sprouts, kale, swiss chard, turnips and radish.
In order to make the sampling fun and exciting, we offer a variety of educational and engaging activities depending on the needs of each school and classroom. Farmer Nathan will visit morning meeting and talk about where the food is grown, a video might be shown highlighting the vegetables that are being sampled and whole vegetables are passed around so kids can see and feel what they look like. Every child receives a handout that offers nutritional information and a story about our farm. This allows them to go home and engage their parents about the experience.
Students are also surveyed as to whether or not they “tried it”, “liked it” or would “try it again”. This is allowing all of our community partners to work towards providing better food access with these nutritional vegetables throughout the year. The students can also provide us feedback about their tasting experience.
“Kids can branch out and eat new foods. Some of the vegetables are good, and some aren’t.” – Sarah (Student Allen County Scottsville Schools)
We also invite Freshman students to come out to the farm. They are able to tour the farm, learn how their food is grown and we hope some of them will consider full-time farming as an occupation. In order to make sure that the experience really hits home we offer a mini farmers market set up where students can select a variety of vegetables to take home with them. We also offer a sampling of quick and easy recipes they can make with those vegetables. The students and teachers always look forward to these farm field days.
“One of the most important pieces of the integrated farm to school program we are building here in Allen County is getting students out on the farm. Not only do they get to see where food is grown, but they also get to taste them. The high school students that visit the farm in spring and fall also learn some valuable insights into year-round farming. We share information about the farm as a career opportunity rather than just nutrition.” – Carolyn Richey (Nursing Supervisor Allen County Health Department)
“From an educator’s perspective, the “Farm to School” program is an enhancement of the nutritional program I use with my freshman health classes. The students tell me after the trip what vegetables they liked/disliked from the samples. The “Farm to School” program is an excellent collaboration for students to realize where food comes from. Often our society as a whole, more so now than even a decade ago, has a disconnect from where food comes from. This program is an excellent visualization for such. The “Farm to School” program for our students at Allen County-Scottsville High School is a great addition to our nutritional program.” – Billy Joe Miller (PE/Health Teacher)