Put Local on Your Tray, a Farm to School campaign works with Connecticut schools to serve and introduce regionally grown produce to their students, is in its second year of working with UConn Extension and Mansfield Public Schools according to Molly Deegan, program coordinator for the campaign.
UConn Extension is a program within the University of Connecticut that connects the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences and public engagement. UConn Extension helps Put Local on Your Tray gain additional funding from CT State Department of Education and to start new projects according to Molly Deegan, program coordinator for the campaign and UConn CAHNR alum, said in an email.
The ultimate goal of the campaign is to educate young students about the importance of healthy, local food Deegan said.
“[The campaign] promoted a summer product with the Zucchini Put Some Squash In Your Summer Campaign in 2017 for summer meals. It was the first time we tried a farmer directory to make it easier to find local products,” Deegan said. “We also started the HardCORE challenge this past October, (encouraging local apple purchasing and consumption in the month of October), as a real product of the Farm to School Collaborative.”
Mansfield Public Schools is one of the 34 schools/districts in Connecticut that have joined the campaign. Stephanie Richard, Food Service director of Mansfield Public Schools and UConn alumna, said that it is increasingly important for students to learn about healthy foods in school starting at a young age.
“[Mansfield Public Schools] does many things with Put Local on Your Tray. We do an October Farm-to-School month with an Apple Crunch Week featuring local apples,” Richard said. “The typical vegetables offered on local tray days are peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, carrots and broccoli. We also have community dinners, a low cost dinner provided by Mansfield School Food Services where the community can come together, have a meal and connect about locally sourced foods.”
According to Richard, a Mansfield parent contacted her about the Put Local on your Tray Campaign two years ago.
“I became director in Mansfield for the 16-17 school year. Almost immediately, Jiff Martin, a Mansfield school student parent and UConn Extension Educator who is largely involved in Put Local On Your Tray and contacted me about the district’s farm-to-school program,” Richard said. “While Mansfield had participated previously, I wanted to grow the farm-to-school program in part with an on-going larger town initiative to promote local and sustainable foods.”
By participating in the campaign, schools are empowered to promote healthy eating habits, Deegan said.
“I am a FoodCorps alumni and for two years I was facilitating taste tests not only in cafeterias, but also in teachers’ classrooms that went along with hands-on lessons,” Deegan said. “I hope this campaign will empower teachers to also find ways to connect and celebrate healthy, fresh, local food in their own classrooms.”
According to Richard, the campaign gives public school students the chance to learn about new foods in a positive way that will increase Mansfield students’ chances in eating them.
“The campaign helps raise student awareness of where their food comes from. Increased access to new foods, such as the vegetables on local tray day, gives students [the chance to have foods] that they may not have tried previously,” Richard said. “It is important to understand where food comes from, why it is healthy, where they can get local food and to hopefully increase fruit and veggie intake.”
By having healthier foods introduced at a young age, it leads to positive future outcomes, according to Deegan.
“It's really about creating the future you want to see and with the model of making the effort to choose CT Grown first, you are really choosing to support your community. Kids win, farmers win and communities win with the model of farm to school,” Deegan said. “ I understand that systematic change to our foodscape is a heavy lift, but we can slowly but surely raise the next generation to be more conscious of the health and wellness of themselves, their home and their communities through food if we give them positive reinforcements of all that comes with consuming delicious and healthy food to shape their ideas when they're young that they can take into adulthood and carry on with them.”
Rachel Philipson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.