Nutrition education is homegrown in the Ferguson Florissant School District, where Kelly Bristow leads the USDA Farm to School program that gives children of all ages an appreciation of food and nutrition – from farm to plate.
The district received a $91,500 grant from the US Food and Drug Administration to support the effort. The students are learning about organic versus processed foods and the advantage of locally grown fruits and vegetables.
“Our overall goal is that we really just want students to know not only where their food comes from, but get excited about eating healthy fruits and vegetables,” Kelly Bristow, registered dietician at Ferguson-Florissant School District, said. “Some of the money is going to be used to get our students physically to our local farms so they can tour around, see how our fruits and vegetables are grown and really make the connection of how they get their produce to our schools.”
About 2,200 students in grades kindergarten to 12 will visit local farms, she added.
“Another aspect of the program, we actually are wanting to process local foods to put them on our school menu,” Bristow said. “We are working with local farmers – we are in talks with Thies Farms [located between Bellerive and Bel-Ridge, Mo.] EarthDance Farms [Ferguson, Mo.], which is an organic farm, and Lee Farms [in Truxton, Mo.].”
While some schools already had gardens, six additional schools created raised beds to grow vegetable gardens where grass used to grow.
“We are hopefully going to use that produce that the students are growing at their schools on salad bars, as well as any herbs they are able to harvest – use those on our school menus too,” Bristow said.
Last year, students processed local tomatoes into marinara sauce, still being served to the 12,000 students in the district.
“They were able to process all those tomatoes and added the herbs and took all the food safety practices and put everything in place to be able to serve it on our school menu,” Bristow added.
While it may not get the fame as a “Ms. Patti’s” pie, this year, three high school students are turning sweet potatoes into tasty, nutritious treats.
“They get paid $10 an hour and they process down at McCluer South-Berkeley [High School],” Bristow said, “and they currently are in the process of taking local sweet potatoes that were from Lee Farm and are turning them into sweet potato muffins.”
The American spoke recently to Kevin Concannon, undersecretary of the USDA Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, who oversees the Farm to School program in the nation’s schools. He said 27 percent of Missouri schools participate. The program promotes local purchasing within 100 miles, school gardens and student engagement throughout the process. The gardens become areas of focus for students, piquing their interest in how foods are grown and creating a willingness to try salads and new foods.
“And those garden principals can be brought into either the math program or earth science, even in art,” Concannon said.
Ferguson-Florissant’s grant allowed the district to expand its Farm to School activities.
“We are very pleased with the fact that they are availing themselves of it,” Concannon added.
Schools are starting to plant gardens now, sprouting seedlings by the end of the school year – with plans in place for taking care of the gardens over the summer.
“We are also in the process of planting carrots, possibly green beans and summer squash … so hopefully we’ll employ the students for a little bit of a summer job and freeze vegetables to then use on our school menu next year,” Bristow said.
Moreover, students’ late summer crop will bring a fall harvest for school menus.
“We look forward to the fall with planting those fall vegetables and having those available on our salad bars,” Bristow said, “Things like sweet potatoes and a lot of the fall squashes – we’ll start planting in August and so we’ll plant them when the students get back and they’ll be able to see the entire plant life process.”
She said many of the schools where the district is putting in gardens are building it into their curriculum, for students to learn about science, math and reading in a completely new way.
“These are almost outdoor classrooms with these gardens,” she said.
Public, private and parochial schools are eligible for the USDA program. For more information, visit http://1.usa.gov/1ghQdw9.