DATCP: AmeriCorps Farm to School: Healthier kids and healthier bottom lines for farmers

Contact: Camilla Vargas 608-224-5017

MADISON — Kids and farmers in 10 Wisconsin counties are benefiting from the AmeriCorps Farm to School program this year in an effort to improve children’s diets and producers’ bottom lines.

Groups in the 10 counties received federal grants administered by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. For most of the recipients, this is the second year of participating in a program that touched 10,000 children during the 2008-09 school year.

Farm to School aims to combat childhood obesity by introducing children to more fruits, vegetables and other healthy alternatives. One way to do that is to connect local producer growers with school lunch programs. Many of the Farm to School projects also have school gardens, and work with Master Gardeners. Gardening and nutrition may be built into the schools’ curricula to help meet state instructional standards. Most of the schools involved have a relatively high rate of participation in the free and reduced lunch program, suggesting low incomes that may contribute to poor nutrition.

The program also provides real world work experience for AmeriCorps members. AmeriCorps is a national service program that provides tuition or student-loan payments in exchange for a year or two of community service that also pays a living allowance to participants. Farm to School places two AmeriCorps members in a school or school district, each working half time. One helps find farmers and food businesses that want to sell products to the site, and the other provides information about nutrition and healthy eating through education and outreach.

Each project also involves partnerships with other community organizations and with volunteers.

This school year’s Wisconsin Farm to School grant recipients are:

* Colby School District

* Crawford County University of Wisconsin-Extension, working with Prairie du Chien, Wauzeka and Seneca school districts

* Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, working with Teutonia Urban Garden, Milwaukee, and The Academy for Learning and Leadership, a Milwaukee public charter school

* REAP Food Group, Madison, working with Madison, Monona Grove, Mount Horeb and Middleton-Cross Plains school districts

* Spooner Area School District

* Stevens Point Area School District

* Viroqua Area School District

* Washburn School District

* Waupaca County UW-Extension, working with county schools

* West CAP (West Central Wisconsin Community Action Agency), working with schools in Barron County

The program is housed in the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The department’s partners in the venture are the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Wisconsin Rural Partners and Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch, a joint project of R.E.A.P. (Research, Education, Action and Policy on Food) and the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems.