by Kristine Da Prato –
Vernon County Farm to School (VCF2S) is wrapping up our fifth year of successful farm2school3programming. VCF2S started in 2008 in three school districts in Vernon County and since then we have continued to expand and improve our program throughout the county. In 2012, with the help of our F2S partners, we received a $50,000 Transform Wisconsin Grant through the Center for Disease Control. Through this increased funding we were able to hire an education coordinator and an outreach coordinator, reach all six school districts in the county, and provide equipment and kitchen staff trainings for many of our districts.
Successes in the 2013-14 School Year:
Harvest of the Month classroom lessons & cafeteria tastings were conducted by our AmeriCorps Member in De Soto, Hillsboro, Kickapoo,La Farge, Viroqua and Westby, reaching nearly 4,000 students every month. For these lessons and tastings, the school districts farm2school classroompurchased local products (mostly through Fifth Season Cooperative) including: tomatoes, beets, cranberries, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pasta, cottage cheese and asparagus. These lessons introduced the elementary students to why, where, when and how these foods are grown. As one teacher in Viroqua pointed out, “… students are unfamiliar with our own local food supply. They may know products around the world but not what is available in their own backyard.” The lessons help the students think about why it is important to buy seasonal, local foods. They are able to understand the connections between the health of their body, the land and the local economy.
The Harvest Challenge is the annual cooking competition for high school students where they are challenged to create a tasty, visually appealing and fiscally sound school entrée and side farm2school4dish. Their creations are then judged by a panel and served to the community at the tasting event. Last year’s event brought together over 300 community members and raised over $4,000 dollars through ticket sales, donations and silent auction items. This fall, the Harvest Challenge is being held in Westby on November 8th. The VCF2S is hoping to have a team from every school in the county as well as extend the invitation to neighboring counties.
School Gardens are a large part of the VCF2S program. Last year we helped Hillsboro install afarm2school2 school garden and offered our support while Stoddard and Westby began their new gardens. This year we partnered with Viroqua Elementary and the Immanuel Lutheran Hunger Garden (which provides fresh produce to the Good Shepherd Food Pantry) in order to help Viroqua Middle School relocate their garden so their students could get to planting, tending and harvesting. We are also helping Kickapoo with their plans to install a new school garden.
Partnerships are an important part of our program. During this school year we were able to bring King Arthur Flour into three of our six school districts to teach the kids how to bake bread. This experience provided the students with a live baking demonstration and the materials to make two loaves of bread at home, one to keep and the other to donate to the community. Students in Vernon County baked over 300 loaves of bread to share with their neighbors. A particular student, who often struggles in school, told his teachers that after the experience he now knows what he wants to do with his life – which is to be a baker!
We also partner with the VFC and the Viroqua Farmer’s Market for the “Taste the Farmers Market” event held the third Saturday of the month. Last year we featured rhubarb, kohlrabi, eggplant and tomatoes. This year, with the help of the Hunger Garden and the students at Viroqua Elementary, we will feature radish, beets, kale and melons.
Recently we received a technical assistance grant from DATCP (Dept. of Ag. Trade and Consumer Protection) to bring on Luke Zahm as a consultant (Driftless Café Chef and Owner) to help Viroqua increase its offerings of local meats by creating three weeks of seasonal recipes, prepared, tested and approved by a group of high school students. These menus will be incorporated into Viroqua’s lunch menus and shared with any schools that are interested.
The future of our program now depends on you and the people you know. Our grant funding from Center for Disease Control will be finished this September. To make our program more sustainable, our goal is to make VCF2S a community supported program. We are looking for community businesses and/or individuals to become annual sponsors of the program. Please spread the word to anyone who may be interested and look on our website to find out more about sponsorship opportunities:
www.farmtoschoolvc.org or contact Ashlee Gabrielson at (608) 637-1539 or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org Since we are housed in the Public School system all donations may be deductible as charitable contributions.
We are looking forward to another amazing year of Farm to School programming throughout the county, and with your help we will continue to teach our children about the benefits of eating local, healthy foods. Thank you for your assistance.
by Kristine Da Prato – Vernon Co. Farm to School Education Coordinator