A local farmer picks collard greens from a school garden at Hopkins West Junior High.
This Op/Ed originally appeared in the St. Cloud Times on October 12, 2013. By Commissioners Dave Frederickson, Department of Agriculture; Brenda Cassellius, Department of Education; Edward Ehlinger, Department of Health.
Remember those thick slabs of greasy pizza from the school cafeterias of your childhood? How about the frozen processed-chicken nuggets or the popular “shake-and-French-fry” line? The food we serve our students at school shouldn’t look this way, and as schools in many parts of Minnesota know today, it doesn’t have to.
More than 145 school districts in Minnesota have taken part in Farm to School programs that connect schools and local farms to serve healthful meals in school cafeterias, improve student nutrition, provide agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and support local and regional farmers. In fact, 68 percent of Minnesota’s K-12 population attends a school that is involved in Farm to School in one way or another. Still, there is much more that can be done.
Research has demonstrated students learn better when they’re well nourished. Healthful eating has been linked to higher grades, better memory, more alertness and improved health, leading to better school attendance. The choice of healthier options through Farm to School meals results in consumption of more fruits and vegetables in the school cafeteria and at home.
This should come as no surprise: Farm-fresh products taste better, and it has been shown that children prefer them. Schools report up to a 16 percent increase in school meal participation when farm-fresh food is served. At a recent visit to schools participating in Farm to School programs, we saw students with plates heaping with fresh strawberries, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts and tomatoes that might have still been warm from the sun shining over the garden where they were picked.
Students even get to know some of the local farmers who provide foods to the schools. Think about the unique learning opportunities that come with knowing who has grown the food that is on your plate. Then consider: should this experience be so unique?