Winnebago County Farm2School Program

Webster Stanley Elementary school garden planting with Jennifer Sattler from Growing Oshkosh, taken by Sarah Wright.

Webster Stanley Elementary school garden planting with Jennifer Sattler from Growing Oshkosh, taken by Sarah Wright.

“Thank you dirt, thanks a bunch for my salad, my sandwich, my milk and my munch, because dirt you made my lunch!” These words were belted by students in the Lighted Schoolhouse program at Washington Elementary school during a Farm2School nutrition education lesson.
Winnebago County is one of several counties participating in the Wisconsin Farm2School program, providing children throughout the state with education and access to fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. Winnebago County Farm2School, a partnership of re:TH!NK/ Winnebago County Health Department and area schools, provided nutrition education lessons in the classroom to over 600 students in six school districts last school year. Topics covered were: edible plant parts, soil science, seasonality of produce, and nutrient content of fresh fruits and vegetables. For many schools this education extended outside of the classroom and into cafeterias and school gardens. Winnebago County Farm2School has been partnering with both food service directors and local farmers to sample and serve more local foods in school lunches. According to Wisconsin Prevention of Obesity and Diabetes (WiPOD), kids eat 20% more fruits and vegetables if they are in Farm2School programs. Fresh produce is an essential part of students’ diets but may not be the reality for all.
According to the CDC, 88.4% of Wisconsin adolescents surveyed eat less than the recommended amounts of vegetables. Multiple factors contribute to this, like lack access to fresh foods. As Paul Van Auken pointed out in the last Scene article, there has been a dramatic decrease in the amount of stores carrying fresh fruits and vegetables in Oshkosh. With decreased exposure to nutritious foods, many students are gravitating towards highly-processed, sugary foods that are cheap and have been engineered to “taste great.” Winnebago County Farm2School is hoping to make more fresh fruits and vegetables accessible in schools and the desired choice by students. One way we have been encouraging this positive relationship is through school gardens. re:TH!NK and Growing Oshkosh, an urban farm non-profit in downtown Oshkosh, have installed three school gardens in Oshkosh Elementary schools with plans to continue building school gardens every year. Other teachers, parents and organizations are working hard to install school gardens throughout the county as well. Just think, what if all students had access to a garden that they planted, watered, weeded, harvested and ate from? What if the fruits and vegetables in school lunches came from local farmers at the peak of ripeness, full of color, freshness, and flavor?
We all want the best for children; one of the easiest ways to ensure healthy growth and development is to provide them with nutritious meals and knowledge about why that is important. Rates of chronic diseases have sky rocketed in the past decade and we don’t want this generation of children to be the first to have a lower life expectancy than their parents. Let’s support Farm2School in all Winnebago County schools and help children learn to make healthy choices that will last a lifetime. 
Sabina Bastias is an AmeriCorps Farm2School Service Member in Winnebago County and board member for the Oshkosh Food Co-op. She is an Environmental Studies and Geography graduate from the University of Colorado with deep interests in food systems, community engagement, and social dance.

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