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Local foods become part of school lunches

In 2010, the United States House of Representatives declared October National Farm to School Month, recognizing the strong role Farm to School plays in promoting good health and strong economies.

Farm to School is a win-win situation for farmers, children, communities, the economy and the environment. In the U.S., the typical food item travels 1,500-2,400 miles from farm to plate, which means a head of California lettuce shipped to Washington, D.C. requires 36 times more fuel energy to transport than the food energy it provides.

Research has shown that fresher products are tastier too which encourages children to eat more healthy foods. It is estimated that there is a 20 percent increase in fruits and vegetable intake with schools that have a Farm to School program and this healthy food substitution can assist in reducing or preventing childhood obesity.

According to St. Croix County Public Health Nutritionist Teresa Kvam RD, CD, "We are just starting to coordinate efforts to increase Farm to School in St. Croix County with the help of Healthier Together (formerly St. Croix County Health Improvement Process- CHIP) and hope to continue to make strides in the years to come to provide fresh, local produce to all our students."

In St. Croix County, the Fifth Season Cooperative out of Viroqua, Wis., provides produce such as sweet peppers, watermelon and zucchini to Hudson, Baldwin-Woodville and New Richmond School districts through the CESA #11 prime vendor contract.

New Richmond School Nutrition Director Karen Brummer, R.D., C.D. states, "The USDA defines 'locally grown' as within a 250-mile radius and in this part of the country, we are able to do that in the spring, summer and fall."

Both Hudson and Baldwin-Woodville School districts have school gardens that produce small crops of tomatoes, peppers, carrots and squash to be worked into the school lunch menus.

New Richmond Agriscience educator Rachel Sauvola has started tilapia farming in the classroom with 500 fish being raised to provide entrees such as fish tacos in the school cafeteria when harvested in early May. Fed three times daily, the fish, which all together equaled a weight of 1.9 pounds, will each individually weigh approximately that much at harvest.

Over the past decade, the Farm to School movement has exploded across the United States.

According to the National Farm to School Network which estimates 5.7 million students in 12,429 schools benefited from Farm to School during the 2011-12 school year, and close to $13 million was spent on local products in schools.