ETHS, D65 students eat healthier, learn farming in new initiatives

Lunchtime is becoming more nutritious and hands-on as schools increasingly turn to locally sourced food and student-run gardens. Some ETHS students farm their own food at the Edible Acre community garden across the street from the school, which last year produced 2,000 pounds of produce.

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Lunchtime is becoming more nutritious and hands-on as schools increasingly turn to locally sourced food and student-run gardens. Some ETHS students farm their own food at the Edible Acre community garden across the street from the school, which last year produced 2,000 pounds of produce.

Oliver Ortega, Reporter

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The local food movement has made its way to Evanston schools, where student-run gardens and a new “farm to school” program initiated in March are making lunchtime more nutritious and hands-on.

Fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, wheat and other ingredients are delivered to Evanston cafeterias from regional farms as part of a program piloted at Evanston Township High School and all the schools in Evanston/Skokie School District 65, said Jordan Ryan, D65’s food services coordinator. Students are also doing their own farming in school gardens, harvesting produce they might eat later for lunch.

The innovative “farm to school” initiative was noticed by school food officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A USDA administrator toured ETHS and Dewey Elementary School, 1551 Wesley Ave., last week as part of a nationwide search for creative ideas to get students to eat healthier foods.

ETHS and D65 schools get most of their locally-sourced produce from a food hub in Wisconsin, Ryan said. Food hubs are facilities through which local and regional farmers can sell and distribute their food.

Evanston resident Linda Mallers uses her company, FarmLogix, to connect ETHS and other local schools to regional farmers. But the majority of the food in school meals still comes from national corporations, Ryan said.

“Buying locally sourced food keeps the traceability chain in what we buy, ensures more sanitation and eliminates the need to have multiple vendors or several farmers, in addition to helping farmers because they can take their products to one spot,” Ryan said.

School districts across the nation are opting for locally-sourced ingredients more than ever before. The National Farm to School Network, a group that links schools with local farmers and is funded by government grants, has grown from just a handful of programs when it first started in the late ‘90s to working with about 13,000 schools in all 50 states.

Mary Stein, the group’s associate director, attributes the program’s success to the increasing attention paid to childhood obesity, as well as a growing interest in local food.

“Child nutrition and addressing the obesity epidemic is an incredibly important topic,” she said. “There’s an increasing consumer interest across the country about really reconnecting to where your food comes from.”

Evanston students are also rolling up their sleeves to do their own farming. At ETHS, participants work in a 5,000-square-foot community garden across the street from the school in what used to be an empty lot, harvesting produce that can be used in the cafeteria or in their own cooking.

Last year, they harvested about 2,000 pounds of produce from the garden, which was opened four years ago. Most D65 schools also have gardens, said Claire Alden of the Evanston Ecology Center.

“It gives students a better understanding of sustainability gardening, harvesting and eating,” Alden said. “Kids actually eat (these vegetables).”

Elliot Frolichstein-Appel, a parent with children at ETHS and Dawes Elementary School, said he thinks these initiatives lead students to think more about nutrition and health. Sometimes his children get so enthusiastic about growing their own food, they fight over the vegetables they bring home, he said.

“The kids come home with recipes and fight over the last bit of kale,” he said. “Who would have thought they’d fight over kale?”

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