SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Childhood obesity and the lack of good food access has been a growing problem for communities in southwest Missouri according to Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
Since 2009, the Springfield R-12 School District (SPS) has been working with community partners to find ways to connect kids with healthy food. Efforts have been made to introduce fresh, local food and educational experiences into the average school day.
“Grants received through the USDA Farm to School Initiative in both 2014 and 2016 have provided support for SPS to initiate a Farm-to-school (F2S) program to incorporate fresh, local produce into school meal programs,” said Duitsman.
The goals of F2S are to improve student health by providing a variety of fresh, nutritious food options; provide hands-on nutrition education based on local food systems; and support the local food system and economy by providing connections with community farms.
F2S HAS POSITIVE IMPACT
According to Duitsman, research shows that Farm-to-School programs increase student’s consumption of fruits and vegetables, and also their understanding of the seasonality of produce, sustainable agriculture, and growing cycles.
“Students show an improved attitude toward eating healthy, and actually select healthyier foods on their own. When local fresh food is incorporated into the school cafeteria, participation in school meal programs increases by an average of 9.3 percent,” said Duitsman.
Positive benefits of F2S initiatives extend to teachers as well. They become more conscious of healthy dietary behaviors. Foodservice staff members become more interested in developing seasonal recipes and new uses for local foods. Parents of school children report healthy changes in shopping, cooking and talking about healthy eating.
“The best news is that parents also report that their children are making improved food choices long-term. Farmers report that F2S programs provide opportunities for improved business and improve cooperation between schools, farms and the community food system,” said Duitsman.
“All of these positive impacts of F2S have been happening in SPS for some time.”
Since January of 2016, the Farm to School Leadership Team has been assisting with the implementation of the District’s efforts to provide local foods to all SPS students and to provide hands-on learning experiences for students and families.
“We were encouraged to learn that the Southwest Region of Missouri will benefit from a third USDA grant to support F2S efforts through June of 2019, and will expand the program to Taney County,” said Duitsman. “Many outcomes have been achieved since the beginning of the implementation grant through our Farm to School Leadership Team.”
AMAZING OUTCOMES OF F2S
Here are a few examples of the outcomes achieved since the implementation of the grant.
* Implementation and sustainability of school gardens have increased and been strengthened through technical assistance provided.
* Focused train-the-trainer sessions have been offered for SPS teachers.
* Outdoor classroom/gardening curriculum has been integrated into teacher instruction.
* Cooperative agreements have been developed with Springfield Community Gardens.
* Nine Tower Gardens are being used in classrooms.
* The first ever SPS Junior Chef Competition offered innovative educational experiences and tremendous behavioral impacts for students and their families.
* Fresh, local fruits and vegetables were introduced into the school cafeteria at four summer school sites during a pilot implementation phase, and local food was purchased for all 54 SPS schools the following fall semester.
* SPS Nutrition Services is currently working with Springfield Grocer and future food hubs to implement a system for purchasing large quantities of local food.
* Teams of students are taking on the challenge of implementing and sustaining the gardens at their respective school sites.
The continuing goal of SPS F2S is to help all citizens, including our littlest Missourians, develop healthy, life-long eating habits, while also supporting our family farmers and our local economy.
For more information, contact Dr. Pam Duitsman in Greene County at (417) 881-8909.
— Dr. Pam Duitsman, University of Missouri Extension
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