Food for thought

Md. makes right move by putting farm-fresh products in front of schoolkids

April 10, 2009|By Cindy Ross

I once read a startling account in Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, about a youngster who was intrigued with his neighbor's harvest. As he dug in the garden, the neighbor asked, "Which vegetable, other than a carrot, would be considered a root vegetable?" The kid answered, "Spaghetti?" As startling as this answer is, I know of another child who thought that milk was cow's urine.

It is disturbing to realize how ignorant some children are about their food. The Farm to School program, a promising nationwide program with participants in our region, wants to change that.

Most states in the Chesapeake Watershed participate, but the premier program in the region is Maryland's, where last year 23 of the 24 local jurisdictions participated in the Maryland Home Grown Lunch Week. The program brought local produce into the schools and educated the students about where their food comes from, how it is produced, and the benefits of a healthful diet. Many schools went on to incorporate local, fresh food into their school lunches throughout the rest of the year. (The event will be held this year from Sept. 14-18; see mda.state.md.us for more information.)

The Farm to School program has several benefits. Students get nutritious meals and gain lifelong knowledge about healthy eating. Farmers increase their incomes. Dollars go into local communities and strengthen local economies. Farm land is kept open and productive. Fuel is conserved and the financial, environmental, and nutritional cost of transporting food decreased.

Jane Storrs, director of national marketing for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, orchestrates all the agencies, schools, food distributors, and farmers to create a program that brings local peaches, apples, pears, sweet corn, watermelon, and other foods into the schools.

Schools turn the kids on to a variety of fresh foods that many have never tried before - foods like homemade chocolate zucchini cake, blackberry jam, squash mac and cheese, roasted red potatoes with onions, and fresh salsa.

Kathy Lazor, director of food and nutrition services in Montgomery County schools, noted that most of her schools are no longer set up to cook. Meals for the system's 140,000 students are prepared in a central kitchen, except when it comes to things like fresh green beans. The green beans are delivered to each school, where they are steamed on the spot. The kids love the fresh beans, and the schools see less waste because kids like the fresh food.

Anthony Geraci, director of school food service for Baltimore public schools, took the concept another step and did away with costly packaging. He has crates of fresh food brought directly from the farmers to the warehouse. The crates are returned and reused.

And in Cecil County schools, Food Supervisor Kathy Thomas goes directly to local farms to purchase produce, then has the farmers deliver right to the schools. Thirty-five farmers participate in the program.

Forty out of 50 states now have some sort of Farm to Schools program in place. Excellent programs, guides, and grants are available to help states expand their programs (information is available at www.farmtoschool.org). But Maryland is the shining example in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Schools set next years' menus in the spring. This coming school year, every Maryland county is working with Ms. Storrs and the Maryland Department of Agriculture. If the program goes well, the state's students will be regularly treated to fresh, local, nutritious food, and they will make the connection between the land and what they eat.

Cindy Ross has written six books about the outdoors. This article is distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

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