Making the connection from farm to plate

Schools serve up lessons with local foods

Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008

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Staff photo by REID SILVERMAN
Local farmer and Maryland Cooperative Extension agent Ben Beale demonstrates to Hsuehping Musgrove's kindergarten class how to use the garden seeder to plant green beans at Greenview Knolls Elementary School last Tuesday morning. The demonstration was part of the statewide Farm-to-School program aimed at educating students about where food comes from and the importance of eating healthy.

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Staff photo by REID SILVERMAN
Students from Linda Stoll's kindergarten class greet a calf during a Farm-to-School program at Greenview Knolls Elementary School last Tuesday morning while they learned about how and why animals are raised from Donna Sasscer, the county's agriculture and seafood manager.

A new program aims to educate students on where their food comes from and make school lunch healthier in the process.

"It's a very important connection for them to make … from the farm to the plate," said Susan McQuilkin, marketing executive for the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission. She said many children do not know where the food they eat comes from or how food grows.

"We're so detached now from the sources of our food," she said.

The hope is children will make the connection between the vegetables and animals raised on farms and the food and meals they eat and, in the long term, choose to eat fresh fruits and vegetables over processed foods.

"When you start young, that's when you capture their minds and hearts," McQuilkin said.

David Wood, a farmer from Mechanicsville's Forrest Hall Farm, was among the guests Tuesday morning at Greenview Knolls Elementary School.

"They know the foods they like," he said. That is how he makes the connections – pizza and ketchup come from tomatoes, which are grown on farms.

He and farmer James "Bubby" Norris showed students fresh vegetables and fruits and talked about what foods are made from each.

In another tent set up outside the school, a farmer had goats for the children to pet while the third station allowed the students to learn about seeds and how vegetables grow.

Prekindergartner Vishba Patel, 4, jumped at answering some of the farmers' questions, thanks to learning about farms in class. "I like apples and grapes and all of them," she said when asked what are her favorite fruits and vegetables.

Schools in St. Mary's do not serve locally grown food on a regular basis, something Mike Jones, the school system's supervisor of food and nutrition services, hopes to change.

"We have to figure out what kinds of things we can use," Jones said. Distribution and growing seasons will have to factor into any food that is served in school cafeterias, but he is hopeful that local foods will show up on students' lunch trays in the near future.

"We'll be showcasing something similar next year, but in the meantime we can look at what we can do to start bringing things in," he said.

Cafeteria staff served fresh watermelon last Tuesday from the Loveville Mennonite auction at Greenview Knolls. The day before, at the Chesapeake Public Charter School students had a chance to shuck and then eat locally grown corn. The program was held at Esperanza Middle School on Thursday and Park Hall Elementary School participated Friday.

In addition to the four schools showcasing Homegrown School Lunch Week, all other county schools incorporated lessons on healthy eating and food production into classroom lessons.

The events were part of the statewide Farm-to-School program, which aims to bring more Maryland-grown products to school lunchrooms and help educate students about the source of their food, how it is produced and the benefits of a healthy diet.

"This is an exciting new way for us to educate students about the benefits of locally grown food as a part of a healthy diet," Jones said. "It also connects students with the source of their food and the economic, environmental, and health benefits of eating fresh, nutritious, local products."