NORTH LIBERTY– Clear Creek Amana (CCA) Nutrition Director Carolyn Campbell applied for a successful Farm to School grant to help students learn more about locally-grown foods. With the grant funding, Campbell was able to put on a farmer’s market-style educational experience at all three of the district’s elementary schools.
“We want to promote buying local,” said Campbell. “It’s healthier.”
Healthier in that the local foods she is encouraging kids to try include fresh fruits and vegetables, the same types of foods Campbell is also trying to introduce more often into the schools’ lunch menus.
“It’s a work in progress,” Campbell said.
The national Farm to School program has a mission of helping connect students and local farms with the objectives of “serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers,” according to the Farm to School website. The National Farm to School Network is a collaborative project of the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College and the Community Food Security Coalition. Supported by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Farm to School helps provide funding for activities that teach students about better nutrition practices and where food comes from through things like school gardens, farm tours, chefs in the classroom, educational workshops for parents and community members, and visits to farmers’ markets.
In this case, Campbell brought the farmer’s market to the students.
Local vendors agreed to be part of the educational, hands-on experiences, and brought the goods they normally sell at other venues to each of the CCA elementary schools. On Sept. 22, vendors at North Bend Elementary’s staged market included: Crow Farms, with fresh tomatoes and ground cherries; Hawkeye Foods, which shared fresh apples and gouda cheese; North Ridge Berry Farm came with a supply of fresh raspberries, tomatoes and freshly-baked cookies; and Anna’s cutting garden, where kids could trade tickets for a colorful fall flower.
Campbell introduced the vendors to groups of children, and talked about the opportunities kids and families have to purchase similar goods in local grocery stores and at area farmer’s markets, and children were given tickets they could exchange for the goods brought in. Most of the vendors also supplied samples of fresh foods to taste, touch and smell.
North Bend Principal Brenda Parker also visited with the children.
“Farm to School is a great program,” said Parker. “It’s a perfect example of how we can bring the community into the schools, and show kids what is produced locally.”
North Bend also participated in a Pick a Better Snack program, initiated by the Iowa Department of Public Health, so teachers could introduce nutritionally sound foods and encourage kids to snack on things like fruits and vegetables instead of chips and candy.
“Here at North Bend, we could tie in the sensory garden, and get kids to try foods they wouldn’t ordinarily eat. The more we can educate kids about foods grown right here in Iowa, the better,” said Parker.
She believes there is a trend toward more people growing their own food, and an increase in the availability of farmer’s markets has made fresh, nutritious foods more accessible to more families. When Campbell asked one fourth and fifth grade class to raise their hands if they had ever visited a real farmer’s market before, nearly half the group waved their arms in the air.
“It’s wonderful,” said Parker. “They are learning what is produced right near their homes.”