Three local school districts in Ohio are teaching students about where the food they eat at school is grown, as well as adding to the overall menu variety, as part of a pilot program through Feed Our Future’s Local Menu Takeover.
This pilot program started last year in Northeast Ohio, and this year, three Cincinnati school districts have committed to serving only locally sourced meals this week as part of Farm to School Month.
This year Feed Our Future’s Local Menu Takeover is working in conjunction with Cincinnati Public Schools, Milford Exempted Village Schools, and West Clermont Local School District in Ohio.
According to Feed Our Future, the program educates students about the local food ecosystem and assists schools in obtaining products from farms in their area as well to incorporate into their menu, and provides them with educational materials and recipes that students can take home and try with their families.
Each month Feed Our Future focuses on a different fruit or vegetable to highlight in its “Harvest of the Month.”
“We anchor all of Feed Our Future around the Harvest of the Month program. October is apple month. We work with our schools to buy apples from local producers. On the teaching side of the Harvest of the Month, we have kits with posters, word searches, and coloring pages that can teach kids about where their food comes from and get them engaged. Every month we are also highlighting the farmers locally they can get the product from,” Alison Patrick, member of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and Feed Our Future, told The Ohio Star.
The program also assists small and mid-size farmers by purchasing products from them. Quarry Hill Orchards is one of the farms who are collaborating with the organization. Quarry Hill Orchard owners Ben and Brooke Gammie told The Star that they are happy to get their apples on school lunch trays.
“We really wanted to figure out how to minimize food miles and bridge the gap between little kiddos and the farms that grow the little kiddos’ fruits. Put a face to where food comes from. That’s the idea to bridge that gap,” Ben Gammie said.
“It’s good for our kids, good for our schools, and good for our community,” Brooke Gammie added.
According to Patrick, all school districts have to do to participate in the Feed Our Future program is to create an account with them and then order the food. Feed Our Future says they handle all other logistics behind the scenes to connect the food to interested schools.
The districts that take part serve four meal concepts during the school year. They are permitted to serve them in any of the schools in their district at any time. Districts select from seven concepts – two breakfasts, three entrees, and two desserts – and all meals feature locally sourced ingredients.
Patrick additionally said that the school districts that have participated have been appreciative and inspired to keep teaching, and that it makes conversations easier about serving local foods. She also states that kids will eat healthy choices if they are given access to them.
“There is a huge misconception that kids won’t eat it. Some of the best experiences I’ve had is that the kids are starting to recognize seasonality and they recognize the quality of the food being served to them. They eat it, they ask for it, and they support it,” Patrick said.
According to Feed Our Future, the purpose of the program is to teach students and families about the importance of utilizing local foods while supporting the local farmers who produce them, improving diet quality and access for kids, making healthy choices available to them, and helping them understand how to make good choices.
Brooke Gammie said that these types of farm-to-school programs are catching on in other school districts throughout the state.
“It is being duplicated throughout the state. All of that momentum is something we would like to see other areas of the state and country duplicate,” she said.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Kids Learning How to Grow Food” by John Englart. CC BY-SA 2.0.