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FTS goal:?Teach healthy eating to Iowa students

By Staff | Mar 2, 2013

DES MOINES – As childhood obesity continues to be a concern to health officials, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, together with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Department of Education has grant money and programs for communities to help teach children about healthy eating habits, while promoting Iowa-grown foods.

Tammy Stotts is the coordinator for the Iowa Farm to School program. Started in 2007, its mission is to teach preschool through twelfth grade students about overall good health and eating habits.

They do this through teaching them how to obtain locally grown foods, demonstrating the importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables from Iowa, planting gardens at school, taking field trips to local farms and orchards, encouraging schools to purchase kitchen equipment that better serves the needs of students, taking part in educational presentations and food fairs, and doing classroom activities that promote healthy eating and Iowa-grown foods.

“There are a lot of FTS activities occurring out there,” said Stotts. “There are 23 full-fledged FTS chapters in Iowa, with lots of other schools doing other parts of the FTS initiative.”

The majority of the funding comes from USDA’s Specialty Crop Lot Grants.

Stotts said the FTS initiative can be brought to any school by anyone in that community. Stotts said there should be at least seven members on a committee. Anyone can get the FTS initiative started, but committees do need to have one school administration representative and one school food service person on the start-up committee.

Each chapter can receive up to $4,000 to create a plan for their school.

“It can be a small school district, or even as big as Des Moines, which has one Farm To School chapter,” said Stotts, adding that the FTS initiative is happening in seven states in the Midwest. “There could even be different schools coming together to form one chapter.”

Stotts said there are other branches of the FTS initiative including:

  • A Garden is the Way to Grow which has more than 30 Midwest schools participating. Funds of $350 or $500 were awarded to purchase supplies necessary to create school gardens or raised beds. Schools also received garden planners and seeds, and an age-appropriate curriculum about growing gardens.
  • A is For Apple initiative, which launched in 2008, encourages the purchase of locally grown Iowa apples. Orchards and schools worked together with the USDA to provide apples to school children. Since that year, more than 6,500 students in more than 60 schools have benefited from that initiative, which also promotes teaching with apples, whether it’s math fractions or cooking with fresh apples. Students read apple books, created apple skits and visited apple orchards.
  • The Wrap Your Own-Iowa Grown, which started in 2009, promotes Iowa producers and the Iowa economy, along with encouraging healthy eating habits for children. The goal is to promote the purchase of locally grown vegetables and products to create wraps.

By 2011, 11 schools signed up to participate, with some of them going on to participate in a recipe contest. Each of the 11 schools received $200 to purchase local fruit and vegetables, wrap papers and more.

There are photo contests, rap video contests, food safety promotions and more, encouraging students to look around their state and see the value in food grown locally that are fresh and readily available.

The FTS initiative is strong in central, northeast and southeast Iowa, Stotts said.

Within the Farm News coverage area Story and Cerro Gordo counties have established FTS chapters, while other counties have implemented outreaches of that initiative, including Osceola, Pocahontas and Humboldt counties doing the Wrap Your Own initiative; Pocahontas, Carroll, Webster and Story counties doing the A is for Apple initiative; and Webster, Dallas and Story counties participating in the Garden is the Way to Grow initiative.

“We’ve gotten good feedback from these initiatives. Now we need to get more growers to work with schools,” Stotts said, adding that growers can bid to grow fresh fruits and vegetables to be used for school lunches.

She said the school district in Independence has frozen sweet corn, green beans and strawberries for use in their school lunch program because of these initiatives.

Stotts said school children do seem to like what is happening.

“School gardens have become a positive reward for the kids,” she said. “They want to get out and work in the gardens weeding and trying the garden foods, and it’s good exercise.

“And by promoting the FTS initiatives, we’re making kids aware of the taste and availability of locally grown foods.

“These kids don’t have buying power right now, but someday they will.”

For more information on how to get the FTS initiative or any of the branch initiatives going in area schools, contact Stotts at (515) 281-7657, or email her at tammy.stotts.@iowaagriculture.gov.

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