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District grows Farm to School philosophy

Come lunchtime this fall, students in the Coupeville School District may see fresher, healthier food grown in the rich fields that surround the schools.

Officials within the district are exploring the options for starting a “Farm to School” program, which is aimed at promoting and serving locally produced food in school cafeterias.

While the school board has made no formal motion, Superintendent Jim Shank publicly said Monday night it is something the district will be moving forward with.

“No one’s going to disagree that healthy foods are better,” he said Wednesday. “My vision at this point is implementing the Farm to School program and working with Chartwells (the district current food contractor).

“I think we could do some things this fall, we just don’t know what.”

Shank said he hopes to have something starting by this fall when students return for the 2014-15 school year.

The discussions to start the program began in March 2013 when a group of community members formed to research and explore options for bringing the program to Coupeville.

The Coupeville Farm to School group is composed of area farmers, parents and public health officials interested in getting more healthy options into the schools.

The group received a grant to fund a partial staff person to coordinate meetings and research. That position is currently filled by Laura Luginbill, who works for Island County Public Health.

“Farm to School is about connecting kids to the food that they eat and the community that grew it,” she said.

Some highlights of the program include using the cafeteria as a classroom, creating a garden on campus and utilizing it as a learning tool and source of produce and creating opportunities for experiential learning and career-ready training.

Under the program, Whidbey Island farmers may supply the school with fresh produce or even meat.

“We have a viable, growing and sustainable agricultural community on Whidbey and the other areas close by,” said Bruce Bryson, a Coupeville resident. “I just think the benefits, they’re obvious.”

The program varies from school-to-school and becomes what the schools make it.

Luginbill said the program is receiving support from state and federal agencies and there are districts across the state and country using the program.

Luginbill, Shank and other members of the group recently visited Lopez Island where the district has a functioning program.

“I learned more visiting Lopez Island,” Shank said. “It gave me a far better vision of what it could become.”

The program has many benefits. Students eat more fruits and vegetables, schools see an increase in meal plan participation and the general economy sees an increase, she said.

“Healthy people learn better,” Luginbill said.

Several community members have written to the school board in support of starting a program. Several even spoke at Monday’s meeting.

Georgie Smith, owner of Willowood Farm and a parent of a student in the district, said she would love to be involved with such a program.

“Sometimes there’s been a perception local food wouldn’t be available,” she said. “We gotta make the steps to make it happen. I’m selling twice a week to restaurants, hospitals and caterers, but not selling to the local school two miles away. I can drive food to Seattle, but I can’t get it into local schools. I think there are a lot of farms that are willing to participate. We got to start the baby steps to get there.”

Coupeville’s current food contractor, Chartwells, has already expressed a willingness to work within the parameters of a Farm to School program.

Another  benefits of the program is financial; districts receive funding for every student eating hot lunch.

Denise Mehal, business manager for the district, said less than half of Coupeville students eat school lunches, but that’s normal. She said while participation has been low, it’s been consistently low.

One of the issues the district faces is declining enrollment. Shank said when he started last year the district had 900 students. It now has 881.

“That’s significant,” he said. “Dollars are tied to students and in turn students who eat, support the food program.”

 

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