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Whatcom Farm to School

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Whatcom Farm to SchoolSomething wonderful is happening in Whatcom County schools which involves locally grown foods. At a time when, paradoxically, childhood obesity and childhood hunger are on the rise in the US, a Whatcom organization is working to introduce local ingredients into school lunch programs to help improve nutrition and educate kids and their families about healthy eating.

Whatcom Farm-to-School (F2S) is a relatively new project designed to help introduce children, teachers, parents, and school food service staff to the advantages of eating local food. Launched in 2009 by the Whatcom Community Foundation’s Sustainable Whatcom Fund Advisory Committee, the F2S Support Team’s goals are straightforward:

  • Provide children with more fresh, nutritious foods.
  • Improve children’s health.
  • Encourage lifelong healthy eating habits.
  • Support Washington’s farmers with local markets for their crops.
  • Reduce negative environmental impacts including energy use, waste, and climate change pollution by decreasing food packaging, refrigeration, storage, and transportation.
  • Help preserve our rural communities.
  • Promote awareness of how food choices impact our health, our communities, and the environment.

They’re trying to achieve these goals by developing and using new models and ways of getting food into the school and reaching out to educate community.

F2S began by gathering information and contacting Food Service directors at public and private schools throughout the county. Next, small grants for pilot projects were made available by the Sustainable Whatcom Fund of the Whatcom Community Foundation. The pilot projects were designed by parents and teachers to develop and test new ways of getting local food into the schools and reaching out to educate the community. For example, the Bellingham School District started a Farm-to-School Advisory Group, and in January 2011 that group helped the district start a program called Harvest of the Month. Now Harvest of the Month has expanded and all eight public school districts in Whatcom County are participating.

For Harvest of the Month, a different seasonal local food product is featured each month. The schools agree to serve at least one school lunch menu during the month which includes that ingredient. F2S has designed flyers, posters for lunch rooms, PowerPoint presentations, and other educational materials for students, teachers, and parents. Teachers are also being encouraged to plan in-class activities to go along with the theme ingredient. According to F2S, “Harvest of the Month provides a great opportunity to try new foods, talk about food choices and think about where our food comes from.”

Harvest of the Month information and educational materials are available online from the F2S website at: whatcomfarmtoschool.org

To achieve their goals, F2S partnered with many organizations, including the National Farm-to-School Network, the Health Department, and WSU. For example, and several other local organizations, including Sustainable Connections and the Community Food Coop, are co-hosting the upcoming REEL Food Film Fest, a series of food-related movie screenings which started last Saturday and will continue through April 19.

F2S recently organized a hands-on training workshop with Chef Garrett Berdan, a teaching/consulting chef from Portland, OR, who works exclusively with schools and food service staff. Chef Garrett offered a six-hour workshop focused on cooking with fresh local produce. knife skills and preparation of recipes he developed for each Harvest of the Month item. All Whatcom school districts were able to send at least one staff member to the event except Ferndale. Ferndale is unique in being the only district in the County to hire a contractor (Sodexo, Inc.) to provide school lunches. The rest of the districts have in-house employees. Since the training, Ferndale has been participating in Harvest of the Month with other districts.

Ultimately, according to coordinators Mardi Solomon and Holly O’Neil, Whatcom F2S would like to see children eating more fresh healthy local foods, which the children would select themselves because they understand why it’s a healthier, tastier choice. Kids would also take what they learned home and help improve their home diets as well. Also, F2S aims to help make it easier for schools to have access to local foods.

All I can say is bravo! And many thanks to the F2S staff, those who donate funding, and the school district employees, teachers, and parents who are making sure their schools take advantage of what’s being offered. It’s win-win for local farmers and local kids.

If you’d like to help, you could start by encouraging kids you know to try the Harvest of the Month ingredient when it’s offered at their school. Encourage parents to let their kids eat school lunch on those days. The more kids actively participate, the more the schools are motivated to change. Finally, you can contact the F2S Support Team by emailing info@whatcomfarmtoschool.org and ask about how to volunteer.

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