Tens of thousands of Iowa students will be munching on locally-grown, fresh produce in their cafeterias when they head back to school this month, thanks to the Farm to School program.
Tammy Stotts, the program’s coordinator at the Iowa Department of Agriculture, says the goals include giving kids hands-on experience with fruit and vegetable gardening and connecting schools with local farmers.
“The Farm to School chapter allows those schools to create whatever it is they need, whether it’s getting growers into the schools, helping get local food into the schools and having taste tests and things like that,” Stotts says. “Some of them include gardening as their project plan. We also have a garden initiative.” While it’s not practical for every school to launch an on-site gardening project, more than 90 Iowa school do now have student-tilled gardens fenced off beside their buildings.
Stotts says it’s a great way to get healthy foods on students’ lunchroom trays, while giving them a well-rounded agricultural education. “You get your science, math, obviously the food nutrition information,” Stotts says. “We also have people that will take their students out to the garden and write poetry. It really is a great thing and allows kids to engage in the Farm to School process.” While the program is helping to develop new markets for Iowa’s farmers, it’s also opening new doors for students.
“Some kids may never try kale outside of school,” Stotts says. “If you want them to be consumers in the future who seek kale, you have to give them that exposure and let them try that. The more kids know about the impact it makes and the more they have the opportunity to try it and certainly when they have a hand at growing it, they are much more inclined to try things.”
The most popular items in the fall are typically tomatoes, cucumbers and squash. According to the U.S.D.A., there are some 460 Iowa schools with more than 180-thousand children taking part in Farm to School. October is Food to School Month, which will include Food Day on the 22nd, during which Iowa schools will serve a coordinated lunch tray with local and regional offerings.