REAP’s Farm To School ProgramTue 29 Nov 2011
Story by Sarah Elliott
Connecting Children, Farms and Food
It is calm autumn Sunday afternoon in Wisconsin, the Packer game is on the radio, and REAP’s Farm to School vegetable processing crew in Madison, WI is ready to start their day’s task – cutting up locally-grown vegetables for the local elementary school kids.
900 lbs Of Kohlrabi!
Armed with two industrial French fry cutters, the team of seven workers is ready to tackle 900 lbs of kohlrabi. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you – 900 lbs of kohlrabi! Kohlrabi is a vegetable that looks like it is straight out of a science-fiction movie, but tastes a bit like cabbage or a mild radish. Most people have never seen 900 lbs of kohlrabi. Most people have never even thought about 900 lbs of kohlrabi, yet peeling, chopping, sticking, washing, and packaging 900 lbs of kohlrabi is an ordinary task for the crew who processes local fruits and vegetables weekly for REAP Food Group’s Farm to School Snack Program.
Currently, the REAP Farm to School snack program serves more than 4,000 students in the ten most economically-challenged elementary schools in Madison, WI. The snack served each week is always a raw, locally-sourced fresh fruit or vegetable. Given the long Wisconsin winters, this forces creativity and out-of-the-“lunchbox” thinking. Snacks that are served include kohlrabi sticks, sweet potato sticks, apples, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, pepper strips, green beans, spinach and asparagus. In the 2010-2011 school year, this program generated over $25,000 in sales to local farmers, and more importantly it provided almost 19,000 lbs of fresh local produce to children who otherwise may not have access to fresh local fruits and veggies!
Strengthening The Local Food System
This year, REAP took another step towards making this program a model of how strengthening the local food system can boost the environmental and the economic sustainability of a community. The REAP processing crew includes participants from the job-skills training program. The program provides marketable job-skills, training for employment in the food service industry, and other long-term job skills that contribute to the economic sustainability of the participants.
With this whole community approach, REAP is facilitating small to mid-sized family farmers selling their produce to institutional buyers, thereby increasing the economic viability of the family farm. This produce is being minimally-processed by members of the local community who are learning valuable job skills that will enable them to become economically self-sufficient. The produce is then served to the youth in the most economically-challenged schools, thereby increasing their access to fresh local food and instilling life-long healthy eating habits.
While small, this model is a living illustration of how a strong local food system can promote healthy people and communities, equitable distribution of food resources, a sustainable environment, and a thriving economy.
Research, Education, Action and Policy (REAP)
Research, Education, Action and Policy on Food Group is a non-profit organization (REAP) focusing on Farm to School, which has been working since 2002 to ensure that all children in the Madison Metropolitan School District have access to healthy food at school, and that our local farming community has access to a large sustainable market of institutional buyers. REAP Food Group is a member-based organization that is building a regional food system that is healthful, just, and both environmentally and economically sustainable.
For more information on the Farm to school program or to become a member of REAP Food Group, please visit our website.
About the author: Sarah Elliott, AICP is the Farm to School Program Manager for REAP Food Group, as well as a certified community planner and a long-time food and sustainable agriculture activist.
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