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School Menus Feature Fresh Produce from School Gardens and Local Farms

Posted on 04/18/2011

As Spring blossoms unfold, many gardeners are already hard at work, clearing beds and planting those cool season veggies, like lettuce, broccoli and carrots.  Students are getting in on the fun too as many schools are using school gardens and greenhouses to help kids learn everything from plant biology and environmental studies to nutrition sciences.

In some school districts, like Alexandria City Public Schools, Va., the school nutrition program is playing a key role in the school garden effort, boosting the soil with kitchen scrap compost and incorporating the harvest into salads and other healthy recipes.  Below: Alexandria students hard at work in their school garden.

Tray Talk’s School Nutrition Success Stories feature a number of communities where kids are benefiting from school gardens, from New Haven, Connecticut, where cafeteria menus include student-raised eggplant, peppers and squash, all the way to Auburn, Washington, where Summer School Academy students harvest fresh produce for their lunch and to supplement meals served through the summer food program.

In Burlington, Vermont, where forty percent of school meals are prepared using foods grown or produced locally, student-raised produce can be found in cafeteria salad bars and soups and offered at school-wide taste tests.  Recently, school gardens have supplied cherry tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and zucchini for salad bars, and student-grown basil has seasoned the cafeteria’s pesto pasta, minestrone soup and more.  Below:  Burlington school nutrition professionals turn student-raised spinach into tasty spinach balls.

In Hawaii, children at Sunset Beach Elementary School take advantage of the fertile soil, planting their own orchard and garden, bursting with tropical treats like guava, starfruit, kumquat, sweet potato, pumpkin and pineapple.  The cafeteria staff have welcomed the fresh produce, which is served on Thursdays at a fresh lunchtime salad bar.

Of course, school gardens require a significant commitment from the entire school community to plant, harvest and maintain the beds, particularly during summer vacation.  Fortunately, even schools without the resources to sustain gardens can benefit from fresh, local produce.  Many districts, from Kentucky to Montana, have been working with area farmers to purchase locally-grown foods.

In Massachusetts, Maynard Public Schools struck up a partnership with nearby Lanni Orchards several years ago.  Now, Maynard students munch on Massachusetts apples nine months out of the year.  When available, local tomatoes can be found on the made-to-order deli line and in the daily salad choices.  In the winter months, Maynard cafeteria workers roast locally grown carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips and turnips with a hint of salt, pepper and olive oil.

When local growers and school districts work together, everybody wins:  students can enjoy the freshest ingredients, and farmers gain support in their communities!

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