Local Program Brings Fresh Foods to Schoolkids

ffvspherculescolor.jpgBy Kristie Snyder,
GreenLeaf Editor

For GreenStar shoppers, having access to fresh fruits and vegetables may seem like a given. But for a lot of kids in our community, that’s not the case. Organizers of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School in Ithaca heard from plenty of teachers, and students themselves, about kids who had never eaten vegetables, never tried certain vegetables, never tried an apple, even. That’s all changed now that the program provides daily snacks of fruits and vegetables to every classroom in the school.

 The snack program, now in its second year, provides daily servings of fresh, raw fruits and vegetables, locally-sourced and organic when possible, to pre-schoolers through fifth graders in each of the Beverly J. Martin (BJM) classrooms. A project of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Foods (NYCHSF), the program is supported entirely by private funding and community partners, including GreenStar and our non-profit affiliate, GreenStar Community Projects.

 NYCHSF is a state-wide non-profit dedicated to improving the health of New York’s students by promoting healthy foods in schools. Executive Director Amie Hamlin wanted to replicate the USDA’s successful Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, which is only available to a few schools in each state — those that serve the most low-income kids. Hamlin approached GreenStar for support. At the time, the work to get GreenStar Community Projects (GSCP) off the ground was just beginning, and a partnership seemed like a good match for both organizations. Last school year, GreenStar contributed over $2,000 in funding. This school year, GreenStar will assist with fundraising efforts and GSCP will support the program by offering related educational activities.

 BJM was chosen as the pilot school because it serves many low-income families, as measured by the number of students signed up for the federal free-lunch program. The goals of the program are three-fold: to have the students consume two additional servings of fruits and vegetables each school day, to have the students consume less junk food, and to change students’ snacking behaviors. Twice each day, in the morning and afternoon, the students receive a snack consisting of a fresh fruit and a fresh vegetable. Teachers are given information about the foods that they can share with the class.

 Teacher feedback indicates that most students eat the fruits and veggies. Survey responses from students and parents show that the kids are in fact eating less junk food as a result, and that they have changed their snacking behaviors. Many parents noted that their children are asking for the foods they have tried in school, and the kids say they feel better when they eat the fresh foods.

 For some kids, the change is dramatic. One student said his favorite food used to be potato chips and was now vegetables. Another had never even tried an apple, and was very reluctant to try the new foods. He finally tried some apple, to the cheers of his classmates, and he liked it and went on to try other things. Some kids who used to bring their own unhealthy snack foods are no longer doing so, eating the fruits and vegetables instead. Teachers and students alike reported that the kids felt better and focused better when they ate the fruits and veggies as opposed to junk food. “Some teachers noted an overall change in the climate of the school,” FFVSP Program Director Lara Kaltman said. “And the kids are really excited about it.” A more quantitative analysis is currently underway, comparing absences, sick days and behavioral references before and after implementing the program, as well as evaluating any changes in the cafeteria’s a la carte sales.

Hamlin and Kaltman hope to make the program financially sustainable, with the goal of eventually turning its management over to the Ithaca City School District (ICSD). Currently, funding is being provided by various private foundations. GreenStar has volunteered to help with the fundraising effort, and during the month of September, shoppers can make a donation to the program at the register (look for more information in the store). Other fundraising ideas are in the works, according to General Manager Bini Reilly.

 GreenStar Community Projects’ mission includes supporting community projects that promote healthful living and social justice. Supporting the FFVSP meets that objective, said Program Coordinator Liz Karabinakis. This year, she is organizing Community Dinners that will bring BJM families together to enjoy dinners of donated local produce prepared by area chefs. Karabinakis pointed out that, for many BJM families, fresh produce may be unaffordable. The Healthy Food for All program, which she coordinates as part of her job as Community Food Educator at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, offers subsidized Community Supported Agriculture shares and nutrition and cooking classes to around 100 local families. The Community Dinners provide a venue for getting information on that program to BJM families, helping them obtain the vegetables that their kids are now excited about eating.

 In addition to GreenStar’s and GSCP’s participation, the Village at Ithaca, a local non-profit dedicated to educational equity in the ICSD, provides administrative support, and Moosewood Restaurant is donating proceeds from an upcoming cookbook.

 Hamlin and Kaltman plan to create a blueprint document for the program, which is now considered a pilot program, to share with other schools. GSCP will share that blueprint with other co-ops as well, which can then work to bring the program to schools in their communities, helping to educate the next generation of eaters.

 GreenStar shoppers interested in supporting the program can donate at the registers during September. To volunteer to help prepare the foods at the school, or to make a direct donation, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . For more information on the program or the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, visit www.healthyschoolfood.org.

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