Locally grown foods can be found easily at most grocery stores and even some restaurants, but have you ever thought about schools serving local foods? Now, the idea of buying locally is emerging into schools as well. In this webinar on Farm to School menu planning, Chef Kent Getzin of Wenatchee’s Farm to School Movement in Washington discussed the success of his program and encouraged other schools to give it a try. He found that local food and ingredients could impact children’s health and introduce them to delicious, healthy meals, and also benefit the local farmers. Surprisingly, local farmers are also eager to get their food into schools to introduce their products and provide fresh and healthy lunches to the children in their community. By establishing relationships with the farmers and accessing supports, he was able to have a successful program.
Many schools are anxious to try this kind of program, but it is not as difficult as one may think. A concern to this type of program is with untrained staff and not being able to manage the preparation of unprocessed local foods. However, by taking small steps in the right direction, programs can be successful anywhere. It is important for a school to do what best works for them. For example, starting with one recipe at a time rather than an entire menu. Setting small goals allows the process to be less overwhelming and still lead to changes in the schools.
Many positive outcomes can result from introducing new foods to children. A fun event that was done with the Wenatchee program was providing taste testings in the cafeteria for the students. Local farmers would come in to highlight new foods and see how the children react to them. It is like a farmer’s market for the kids and shows them that the food on their plate comes from a farm right down the road from their school. Chef Kent Getzin emphasized how much positive feedback is received on these farm-to-school programs, and how easy it can be for other schools to implement local foods into their menus. I believe schools all over the United States could benefit from farm-to-school programs, especially states in the Southeast with high rates of childhood obesity. If children are able to eat more about healthy foods and learn about what is grown in their community, this could potentially lead to them adapting healthy eating habits that will continue throughout their lives. In addition to physical health, healthy lunches can also influence classroom learning and learning abilities. By eating healthy, local foods, children are more energized throughout the day and can perform better in the classroom. With benefits such as these, more schools should consider looking into farm-to-school programs for their school lunch programs. There are many resources available for schools and communities to provide guidance in implementing these programs. The USDA Food and Nutrition services have many resources on their website including information on establishing a vision and goals, buying local foods, and menu planning strategies. Some of the menu planning resources even include food buying guides, worksheets, and a food buying guide calculator for building shopping lists and determining how much of an item to purchase. These resources are great toolkits for getting one of these programs started as well as making it successful.