National Nutrition Month; a time to celebrate school food!

National Nutrition Month; a time to celebrate school food!

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When you think “local food” do you also think “school food”? You should. About 25% of food served by Hartford Public Schools is local.

This helps the local economy, and bolsters hometown pride. Lonnie Burt, Senior Director of Child Nutrition for Hartford Public Schools explains that, “Purchasing local products is important on so many levels; it has a positive impact on our community and the residents.”

Knox Inc, a community organization and farm in Hartford, sells vegetables like bok choy, collard greens and fresh cilantro directly to Hartford Public Schools. Brunella Ibarrola, Assistant Director of Nutrition Support for Hartford Public Schools Food and Child Nutrition Services, shares that students are thrilled when they see “Hartford grown” on the menu. “When students become aware that a vegetable has been grown right in Hartford by Knox’s Incubator Farmer program, they become really excited and proud of their city!”

Local food purchasing requires building relationships and UConn Extension’s Put Local on Your Tray program is a matchmaker for many of these connections. The Tray Program helps Connecticut school districts serve and celebrate locally grown products.

“Schools want to increase their farm to school programming, which is where we come in; and when we are able to establish a partnership between a school and a farm, it benefits the larger community” says Molly Deegan, Put Local on Your Tray Coordinator.

Besides the benefits for the community, the students are learning valuable lessons in the cafeteria – a space that is sometimes overlooked as part of the learning environment in a school. Using local products allows “students [to] gain knowledge about local farmers and their products which are grown in their community” shares Maureen Nuzzo, Director of Food Services, Old Saybrook Public Schools. Old Saybrook is one of 59 school districts serving nearly 300 schools that have taken the pledge to source and serve local foods. Programming which highlights local foods, gets students involved in, and excited about, school lunches and nutrition. With National Nutrition Month in March, it’s a great time to celebrate local food and that’s just what UConn Extension’s Put Local On Your Tray program is all about.

When Maggie Dreher, Director of Nutrition Services for Avon Public Schools, Canton Public Schools, & Regional School District #10 served local kale from Sub Edge Farm (the first of many local produce items) she had no idea that just months later she would be hosting a district-wide event that put the farm on display. On March 21st, Maggie will be hosting a Jr. Chef competition featuring two teams per school district (6 total) where they will be challenged with a “chopped style mystery box,” where local produce from Sub Edge farm will be featured.

Through a combination of technical assistance and promotional materials, the Tray team works with schools to build a culture of health in the cafeteria, celebrate school nutrition programs, and support local agriculture. Put Local On Your Tray is a project of UConn Extension, in partnership with the CT State Department of Education, FoodCorps Connecticut, and New England Dairy & Food Council (NEDFC).