Fresh local food. School gardens. Better nutrition.
Those are the goals the National Center for Appropriate Technology had in mind when it applied for a federal Farm-to-School Program grant earlier this year.
The center is one of 71 organizations in 42 states that received the money, which will fund a two-year initiative in Butte and Boulder to bring more local food to school cafeterias.
“I think that today’s kids, and really even adults, are pretty disconnected from where our food comes from,” said Nancy Moore, program director at NCAT in Butte. “And that means our diets are less healthy. With local foods our diets could be healthier and we’d be supporting local economies a lot better.”
NCAT is putting together the committees to oversee the projects funded by the $96,700 grant. She hopes the participants include educators, parents and local food producers.
“Our partnership with (community members) will be really key because those are the people who are in the classrooms, in the kitchens, in the communities,” Moore said. “Ultimately we found that collaboration is key for any successful farm-to-school program.”
There are a number of ways the money could be used in schools.
One of the first items on the agenda is buying kitchen equipment to help staff process whole foods. For example, currently the kitchens buy non-local potatoes or onions pre-chopped in vacuum-sealed bags. With an industrial chopper and vacuum sealer, kitchens can purchase and process local foods.
Plans are to expand school gardens and plant new ones. In Butte, East Middle School and Whittier Elementary have gardens.
The money will also provide training on meeting school lunch requirements and nutrition guidelines using local foods. MSU extension will train local farmers and ranchers in on-farm food safety, packaging requirements and distribution suggestions, among other things.
“The idea is that you have this holistic program working with food service directors, food producers and working with Food Corps to have educational component,” Moore said.
Food Corps is a branch of AmeriCorps that provides volunteers to help get local foods in schools.
Butte’s Food Corps volunteer Andi Giddings said she’s looking forward to expanding her efforts in schools, where she already teaches classes about gardening and nutrition.
“I’m teaching kids about healthy foods and where they come from,” Giddings said. “Hopefully the committees can support the educational
classes I’m doing already. They’ll give feedback and guide the work that I’m doing.”
Giddings said Butte schools already feature one local food a month in meals, but she said she hopes that the schools can do more.
“With the grant the goal is to expand the amount of local food the district can purchase” she said.
Moore said that so far the local food movement has been popular in Bozeman and Missoula, but has been slow to catch on along the Interstate 15 corridor. She hopes the program in Butte and Boulder will be an impetus for similar programs in Helena and Dillon. She hopes folks will realize that local foods in schools are a win-win.
“Agriculture is Montana’s number one industry and yet we import most of our food,” Moore said. “It’s important to support rural economies. These are communities where the connections need to be remade between the people growing our food and the people eating it.”
Reach Christensen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-496-5572.