In 2009, Dover-Eyota Public Schools took a step forward towards bettering nutrition and furthering education with its Farm to School Program.
“After hearing Annette Derouin, Food and Nutrition Service Director of Willmar Public Schools, share her Farm to School program, I was inspired by her role in Minnesota’s farm to school movement,” says Carrie Frank, Food & Nutrition Director of Dover-Eyota Public Schools.
Dover-Eyota Public Schools include one elementary school and one junior/high school, totaling approximately 1,200 students. Of these students, 86 percent participate in the National School Lunch Program and 23 percent in the free and reduced lunch program.
The Dover-Eyota Public Schools treat the cafeteria as a classroom: “In the cafeteria, we do more than prepare and serve meals. We teach where food comes from, what a balanced meal looks like, and how good nutrition can impact academic and athletic performance,” Carrie shares.
The Farm to School Program works with numerous farmers throughout the surrounding area. Produce Plus in Eyota has been providing the program with onions, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes,
potatoes, corn on the cob, watermelons, and cantaloupe since 2009. Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls provides ground turkey and turkey hot dogs; Burt’s Meats in Eyota provides hamburger patties and bratwurst; and every now and then, the schools have received bison from Buffalo Gale and Spring Creek Bison. Other farmers have worked with the program to include numerous other fruits and vegetables in the nutrition plan.
Students are actively involved in the program–and not just the consumption part of it! The program has included classes and presentations for students to learn about agriculture and try their hands at it.
In 2010, students worked with Jerry Kathan of Kathan’s Ridgeview Orchard to plant 15 dwarf apple trees in an open courtyard in the center of the high school. The orchard was expanded to include pear trees and blueberry bushes the next year and in 2013, the students harvested their first apple crop.
Other student projects have included classes planting, cultivating, and harvesting variety lettuce as well as starting up a vertical garden.
This year, a new scratch kitchen was completed at the elementary school, giving staff the flexibility and opportunity to prepare more foods from scratch. The school also purchased a commercial root peeler with hopes to prepare mashed potatoes and carrot sticks from a local farmer for students’ meals.
The Farm-to-School program involves school administrators, parents, and community members who “recognize the link between nutrition and education, specifically how improving the school meal programs can, in the short term, lead to better grades and increase motivation, likelihood of graduation, and decrease absenteeism. And, in the long term, reduce rates of obesity and chronic disease,” says Carrie.
With its constant striving to better the nutrition and education of its students, the Dover-Eyota Public Schools’ Farm to School Program has received awards on the local, state, and national levels.
“In short,” Carrie explains, the school district is “committed to our Farm to School Program because we have seen firsthand the increase in students’ willingness to try fruits and vegetables and, ultimately, eat more of them. Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables is good for student health, good for the Food Service Department bottom line, and good for local producers.”