November 22, 2014

Northeast Iowa students learn about food production

Some northeast Iowa students are getting the chance to see how parts of their school lunch gets from the farm to the plate. Andrea Rissing of the University of Northern Iowa helps schools find locally grown foods through the “Farm to School Program.” Rissing says the program is broken into two parts, the first is getting locally grown food into the cafeterias so schools serve fresher and healthier food.

The second part is the education so students learn where the food comes from and get to know the farmer. For example, the program has Mark Armstrong, the owner of a Springville dairy farm visiting Independence elementary students. She says Armstrong will make two visits to first graders to show them how he makes mozzarella cheese. The school serves his cheese curds and it will let students see how they are made and then they will eat them later in the day.

Rissing says their program in northeast Iowa involves six schools and they try to have producers visit the schools whenever they can.

Rissing says they’ve also had apple growers come in and do taste tests with the apples that they have grown. Rissing works at U-N-I’s Center for energy and Environmental Education, and says they help schools find local growers through the Northern Iowa Food and Farm Partnership. There are a variety of locally grown products available.

Rissing says eggs are one product, especially with the recent salmonella egg scare. There’s apples, squash, potatoes and she says greens can be grown late into the winter on hoop farms. Rissing says there are many advantages for both sides when food is bought locally.

She says you can save money on in-season produce, she says that helps the community. Rissing says the growers appreciate being able to reach students at a young age, and those students tell their parents about the locally grown foods.

Independence students have also toured local farms on field trips and take care of a school garden. Rissing says the Independence district gets around seven percent of its food from local sources. She says the amount of locally grown food used by districts varies based on their size.