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Grown with love: Farm to school initiatives

As part of a Food and Nutrition class, Katie Gruber, program specialist for BLEND, and Dulce Garcia roll sushi for Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith’s visit to CentraCare Health – Long Prairie in September 2016.

As part of a Food and Nutrition class,
Katie Gruber, program specialist for
BLEND, and Dulce Garcia roll sushi
for Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith’s
visit to CentraCare Health – Long
Prairie in September 2016.

Food Services director Greg Van Hoever admits to stirring things up in the Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (LPGE) school cafeterias.

He buys as much produce as possible from local growers and finds innovative ways for children to experience it. He’ll chop fresh basil into marinara sauce, encourage experimentation and add flavor stations, where kids can sprinkle on chipotle, lemon pepper and other spices.

“I recently served Brussels sprouts and more than 200 children tried it,” Greg said. “Success would be the kids asking parents to make it at home.”

Introducing fruits and vegetables to kids when young instill lifelong, healthy eating habits and give them the nutrients needed to grow and learn.

Greg’s methods have won over LPGE 10th grader Dulce Garcia, who noted the conventional school meals were “boring and it has been fun to try new things.”

These methods are supported by BLEND (Better Living: Exercise and Nutrition Daily), an initiative of Feeling Good MN, powered by CentraCare Health, to reduce childhood obesity. BLEND provides area schools with resources to carry on the farm-to-school movement, such as taste testing, smarter lunchrooms and grant writing assistance for equipment like vegetable steamers. LPGE schools recently were awarded a $9,000 grant for a steamer. A commercial steamer provides a fast and easy way to prepare large quantities of vegetables and other foods while retaining the nutritional value.

BLEND also champions bringing the lunchroom into the classroom, where students can watch and participate in the lifespan of a plant from seed to fruit to plate. “Our program educates students on where local food is grown and how it gets on their school lunch menus,” said Connie Jopp, Nutritional Services supervisor, St. Cloud Area School District 742.

“Farm-to-school is a win for the environment, community and our children,” said Emily Ackerman, MN GreenCorps member, serving with BLEND. “The less miles that food travels, the fewer fossil fuels burned and more nutrients retained.”

“Our produce doesn’t come off a truck from ‘somewhere,’” Greg added. “It’s hand-picked, produced in our soil, kept in our community and made with love.”

What are smarter lunchrooms?

Smarter lunchrooms encourage students to try, eat and enjoy healthier foods through easy no-cost and low-cost changes, such as:

  • Menu boards with engaging names such as “sizzling green beans”
  • Healthier foods at eye level and in multiple locations
  • A veggie-of-the-day with tips for eating it
  • Colorful salad bars with smaller scoops for dressings
  • Student involvement in cafeteria decor