UPDATE: The Transform Wisconsin Grant committee needs community support. The Farm to School program meetings are open to the public and are set for November 14, 6 p.m., at Tomah High School; November 14, 7:30 p.m., at Brookwood High School; and November 15, 6 p.m., at Sparta High School.
Third graders from Southside Elementary School in Sparta are getting a lesson in nutrition from a prominent French chef.
“We're going to get to know our new friends that are going to be on the plate,” said Chef Monique Hooker.
“The only thing that I pretty much know is the carrots,” said Abbey Dearman, third grader.
This lesson is the result of a grant intended to help three school districts in Monroe County start a Farm to School Program.
“Part of our initial program is to bring in Chef Hooker to introduce students to some of the vegetables that they may not be familiar with and work with local farmers to establish that change,” said Autumn Grooms, project coordinator for the Transform Wisconsin Grant.
Chef Hooker has been working with Farm to School programs at hundreds of school districts from throughout the state for almost a decade.
“It's really to get interest going,” said Hooker. “And once they're interested, their curiosity is going and then curiosity leads to wanting to do it. And there's a little bit of peer pressure because they say if you eat it, I'll eat it too.”
However getting the students to try the food is only half the battle. The other half is getting local farmers to grow the vegetables, and local school districts to serve them.
“I know now it's through grant and through Farm to School,” said Hooker. “The long term is to really get the school to buy this, because it is so cheap… all these root vegetables. If the famers knew they could grow tons and tons of these vegetables that would be used in the school, they would do it.”
And while the Sparta School District has already introduced a fresh salad bar into many of their schools, they're hoping to work with local farmers to keep this effort moving forward.
“We're thrilled to have the grant to find the best practices to bring the local farmers in,” said Cindy Thesing, nutrition services supervisor.
“Our long term hope is to establish a farm to school program in Monroe County,” said Grooms, “and to help establish healthier habits for the children in Monroe County and the residents of Monroe County.”
And an increased demand in healthy food options is exactly what this French chef is hoping to accomplish throughout the state.