In an effort to provide students with healthier lunches with local produce, Cath Pape has been working with the Farm to School organization through Healthiest Manitowoc County to connect local farmers to local schools and provide education to students about the benefits of eating locally-produced food.
“Farm to School encompasses procurement, trying to bring locally-sourced food into the schools,” Pape said. "Procuring is helpful for local farmers and is also more nutritious. … We are also doing classroom education, and that gets us into the schools and really getting kids tangible, experiential opportunities to taste, touch, see food.”
Amber Daugs and Helena Stallings from AmeriCorps have been helping Pape spread the message through community outreach and nutrition education. Together, they have organized classroom lessons, after-school programs and local events all centered on the benefits of eating locally grown food.
“We need the community to continue to think about where their food is coming from,” Pape said. “We need the community to care what quality the food is that we’re serving our kids. We need school administrators to pay attention to if their behavior is changing, are the grades going up?”
Pape said bringing locally grown food to schools isn’t just a local concern, it’s a national movement.
“This is all across the country,” she said. “There’s a movement of 'What if every school had a school garden?', 'What if every school served something kids grew on the lunch line?', 'What if every school used a garden as an outdoor classroom?', 'What would happen if kids’ meals had fresh food?' We want parents to start thinking about where it is their kids’ meals come from, whether they are packing them at home or they are paying for lunch.”
As a chef who owns her own food production business, Stallings said the issue of using locally-grown food is near to her heart.
“One of the things that really impacts me is that kids don’t know, they have zero relationship with food … do you grow it?" Stallings said. "Once you grow it, what do you do with it? So, kids are turning to fast food and restaurants and they don’t know what a good home-cooked meal is and they have no idea where to start in the kitchen.”
Stallings plans to use her own experience as a chef and her position as the nutrition educator with Farm to School to teach students about growing produce and using it in cooking. She said she will be involved in after-school programs and classroom lessons in schools throughout Manitowoc County.
In addition to helping Stallings acquire the local produce she needs for the educational programs, Daugs has been working through her community outreach objectives to gather support and volunteers for the local Farm to School organization.
Daugs said anybody who wants to volunteer with Farm to School is welcome, and they are looking for people with various skills, including gardening and photography.