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The future of Ava children depends on more than just what they learn in the classroom. Just as important is what they eat in the lunchroom.
Designed to raise awareness around the issue of school nutrition, the Missouri Farm to School project helps to connect schools and students to locally grown food sources and support local farmers. Programs also help to educate children and parents about the benefits of eating healthy.
Studies suggest that a student’s academic performance may be linked to that student’s diet. There are multiple ways to create a healthy diet, such as limiting sugars and fats, and eating plenty of produce. But the hard truth is that many Missouri students simply don’t get the food they need to succeed. According to the 2009 Missouri Youth Risk Behavior Survey, just among high schoolers, four out of every five Missouri students reported eating less than five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. One-third drinks at least one soda or pop every day. One in seven is obese. That means an estimated 40,000 students in Missouri public high schools are obese. Or to put it another way, that’s enough people to fill the Kansas City Royals Kauffman Stadium.
But every community has options to reverse this trend. Studies have shown that the more children are offered healthy options, the more likely they are to eat them. This is where Douglas County parents and community members can step in and work with schools to use more locally grown food in school meals and snacks. From small to large budgets, Farm to School programs can be tailored to fit around a particular school or community’s needs. Missouri Farm to School can also work with school administrators, local farmers and food providers to create a plan that works.
“Based on feedback we’ve received from Missouri schools who are trying Farm to School projects, we know there are a lot of options out there,” says Bill McKelvey, coordinator of the Missouri Farm to Institution Project. “One school can offer a few local options because they have more storage space whereas another just features locally grown apples when they are in season.”
From finding people who can help and providing technical training, to creating an open forum for the community to work together, there are many ways the Missouri Farm to School project offer support.
Successful local programs offer students the opportunity to learn about food, hands-on. Many organizers have discovered that once students learn about the food, their enthusiasm grows.
To help ensure that students are eating healthy, Missouri Farm to School recommends:
Look local. Gather information about the unique needs and capability of your area. What are schools currently serving? Is there a distributor in your area that works with local farmers? Is there a farmers’ market or are there local farms that sell directly to people and institutions? You can find a local farmers’ market at http://agebb.missouri.edu/fmktdir/view.htm.
Work with others. It’s better and more effective to build coalitions instead of trying to do it alone. Learn all you can from those who have tried locally grown and ask for their advice. Also, while you’re at it, why not thank the cooks and lunch ladies serving the meals, too, and ask them about the challenges they face when making menus and managing budgets.
Make a plan. Don’t try to do everything at once. Work with all the stakeholders — farmers, food services, parents, school administrators — to determine what the steps to success are. The first step might be as simple as offering locally-grown apples for lunch for one week in the fall. If that is still too challenging, schools can decide to limit selling sugary sodas and simply offer milk or water.
Learn more about Farm to School and what people are doing in Missouri at MoFarmtoSchool.Missouri.Edu