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A Growing Movement

Farm-to-school program seeks to plant more gardens

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After helping bring student-grown produce to a cafeteria this fall, the Montgomery County Wellness Coalition wants to plant the seed for more school gardens.

The group’s farm-to-school initiative partnered last year with Nicholson Elementary’s garden team, food provider and Purdue Extension to complete the regulatory process for serving food harvested from the school’s garden. Nicholson is seen as a model for other local schools to start their own patches and promote lifelong healthy eating habits among students.

“Elementary schools are probably a good fit for this because they have a little bit more freedom to move around outside… they might have some land for that,” Ashley Adair, agriculture and natural resources extension educator, said.

“So I’m hoping that school gardens become a part of the curriculum in other school districts and also we’re really hoping that the schools procure food through some local means,” Adair added.

The coalition returned to Nicholson Tuesday for gardening and nutrition demonstrations and a free meal to kick off National Farm-to-School Month. Families lined up to identify and plant herbs, handle garden tools, learn the nutritional benefits of dairy products, fruits and vegetables and consider fitness techniques. 

Third grader Karter Nolan took a garden hoe from a display of planting tools and scooted the blade across the floor. Karter joined the school’s garden club last summer, helping pull weeds and gather ripe produce, some of which was donated to the FISH Food Pantry. The students took home zucchini and potatoes. 

“I think it’s neat to teach them the importance of healthy eating,” said Karter’s mom, Kylie Nolan.

In other Crawfordsville schools, the coalition has offered taste tests of new dishes and the district’s resident dietitian leads lessons on the origin of food.

As the initiative expands throughout the county, the group said school districts should consider local food options available from food providers. More than 20 local teachers received free herb gardens for their classrooms this year.

Farm-to-school will be the focus of Purdue Extension’s Local Food Summit Oct. 30 at Fusion 54.

“It seems like when we did a few introductory events for farm-to-school last year that it kind of piqued a lot of interest, as well as last year’s food summit,” said Holly Catron, Purdue Extension wellness coordinator.

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