Going local: Farm to School plucks apples
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, the old saying goes. And River Falls School District officials certainly hope the apples it provides students this year help keep them healthy.
The 2013-14 school year marks the first time Chartwells, the school district food service provider has contracted with an area farmer — Circle K Orchard’s Wilson Mills — to provide produce for students’ lunches.
This is a part of the district’s Farm to School program — or F2S for short — which is an effort to bring locally grown foods to schools for students to eat, and to educate students about the foods.
Robin Boles is a member of the Farm to School subcommittee of the school district’s Food Service Advisory Council. She said teaching kids to eat healthy early is important because obesity, diabetes and other health problems are on the rise. She said poor eating choices contribute to the problem.
“If you teach (kids) at a young age to eat healthy, it sometimes stays with them,” Food Service Director Sherry Bruggeman said, “and the older ones, give them a variety of different fruits and vegetables grown in the area for health food.”
Instead of processed foods, Boles said she hopes the Farm to School program will encourage kids — both young and old — to eat healthy, local foods.
For now the program only extends to local apples from Circle K. Bruggeman and Boles said they want to expand the program, gradually adding more and more local produce and eventually diary and meat.
While this is the first year the school district has gotten apples from Circle K, Mills said River Falls is one of four school districts he is working with this year through Farm to School programs.
“The program really does address the fact that kids are able to get local product that they like, so that’s what really makes it a great program,” Mills said.
He said he sends a different type of apple to the schools each week. So far this year, the apple varieties have included: Courtland, McIntosh and Zestar.
But the Farm to School program isn’t only about feeding local produce to kids. It’s also about education.
Mills also sends the schools educational flyers on the variety of apples he sends.
But the education extends even further, according to Boles and fellow Farm to School committee member Rainbow Barry.
They said UW-River Falls Agriculture Education students come into the district’s fourth grade classrooms every year to teach a lesson about agriculture. This year they will teach around the theme of food going from “farm to plate.”
Boles and Barry said the Farm to School program comes from a grassroots movement to get healthy, local food onto school lunch plates and to teach kids about that food. The movement has gotten federal support through grants made available for such programs.
The money for the food bought — such as apples from Circle K — for the students lunch program comes from the regular school district food budget.
Bruggeman said the price difference between buying apples from Circle K and buying apples from Bix Produce is very small. She said other foods may have higher or lower prices than she is paying now, but she believes the price of buying food for the district will likely remain about the same as it is now.
But Boles said the other aspects of the program are funded by grants and donations.
Bruggeman, Boles and Barry all said the school lunch prices will not change because of the Farm to School program.
The Farm to School program is working to create a website, though it does have a donation jar at local Whole Earth Grocery. For more information on the program, contact Boles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the full story, please see the Oct. 10 print edition of the River Falls Journal.