Long Prairie – Grey Eagle Schools & BLEND

December 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

long-prairie-blog-2-bannerIn just under two years, BLEND – along with many community partners and the newly established Long Prairie Wellness Network – has seen tremendous success building and sustaining a culture of health that has empowered the Long Prairie community to place wellness as a top priority. In a recent blog titled “BLEND is in Long Prairie” we highlighted a couple of the successful initiatives that has helped craft a new narrative for this small, rural community. But wait…the story doesn’t end there! With the help of a budding relationship with the local school district, we’re writing another successful chapter.  

The Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (LPGE) School District is a strong pillar in the community; serving over 900 students. BLEND and LPGE had passed each other in the halls and in the community over the years, but it wasn’t until our “first date” back in May 2016 that we encountered similarities and a true friendship. Between the dates of May 2nd – 6th (2016), BLEND – with CentraCare Health Dietitian (Clara) and SNAP-Ed Educator (Elizabeth) – implemented a weeklong “Every Kid Healthy Week” celebration to get kids moving and encourage them to try new, healthy foods. A grant provided by the Action for Healthy Kids was awarded to LPGE that allowed for all elementary students to sample fruits, vegetables, and edible flowers during lunch. In addition to the kids trying new root vegetables and tropical fruits, the school started the day with classroom fitness activities called Energizers. Energizers are activity breaks that can be built into the school day to get students up and moving more, which helps them focus and learn more throughout the day. 

This budding relationship has now moved on to a “second date” with LPGE!

With BLEND’s help, the LPGE Elementary School was awarded a Jeffers Foundation grant to implement a school garden. SNAP-Ed Educator Elizabeth and CentraCare Health – Long Prairie Dietitian Clara, with help this time from a local Master Gardener (Lori), taught the students how to plant, weed, water, and harvest the crops. Students were able to sample the produce on-site and take home the extras, which fueled a growing interest in the garden and locally grown foods.

Okay – we’re invested in this relationship and a new conversation around Farm-to-School has started! 

The conversation came at an optimal time.  You see…the Minnesota Department of Agriculture announced a Farm-to-School grant that could help schools purchase kitchen equipment to increase the amount of “local” foods served in the cafeteria. When schools are able to upgrade and utilize commercial-grade equipment, it greatly increases the efficiency of preparing fresh and local produce. This is a win-win for kitchen staff and for the kiddos!  With the help of BLEND, LPGE applied for the grant. Guess what?  We just learned that LPGE was awarded the Farm-to-School grant to purchase a steam table for the elementary kitchen. YAY!!

LPGE kitchen staff has fully embraced Farm-to-School. They have built relationships with local farmers – including Agua Gorda. They have incorporated fresh Farm-to-School menu items available during lunch time. And, looking at ways to increase consumption of healthy foods and decrease waste. These strategies are called Smarter Lunchroom techniques. Smarter Lunchrooms, which is a behavioral economics assessment, is being conducted in the LPGE cafeteria. By using simple techniques, such as placing healthier items at eye level or renaming menu items to be more appealing (Sizzling Green Beans or UnBEETable Hummus, for example) it alters perceptions, increases convenience of healthy choices, and decreases the amount of waste in the cafeteria. And with little-to-no-cost for the school to implement – these easy changes in the cafeteria can be effective. It’s a no brainer! 

Today, the relationship continues to flourish! 

BLEND has helped LPGE establish the District’s Student Wellness Committee which includes administrators, a school nurse, staff, and many others. As a member of this committee, BLEND is assisting the school in updating their “Local School Wellness Policy” which is a requirement for schools participating in federal breakfast and lunch programs. 

BLEND is also part of a conversation to implement Second Chance Breakfast (2CB). 2CB allows kids who might not feel hungry or have time to eat breakfast in the morning before school to access a grab and go option after the first bell. Studies have proven a decrease in behavioral issues and an increase in attentive students when students have something to eat in the morning.

We are so proud of and enthused by this amazing relationship we’ve built with LPGE. This chapter is definitely not over – so stayed tuned for more from the LPGE and BLEND story!

Discovery Elementary School in Waite Park is Trying New Things!

December 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Taste tests are a method to introduce students to new recipes, test the feasibility in the school kitchen, and create visible progress of Farm-to-School ideology. Basically, a taste test consists of a sample of something new. Posters highlight the menu feature and staff are present to encourage students to sample the item with an open mind.

In our pilot of Farm-to-School in St. Cloud, we successfully implemented our FIRST taste test experience at Discovery Elementary School. The item was a root vegetable medley: carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and parsnips diced up and roasted. Each student received a sample to eat with lunch, and while willingness and reviews were mixed, this is a step in the right direction, a step toward students being able to eat fresh vegetables in the cafeteria. We applaud our cafeteria staff for making this first taste test possible!

How can I get my child to try new foods?

Many children fear trying new items, but there are simple techniques to provide support. For your home taste tests, I suggest doing either a “1-2-3 BITE” method or an “I taste, you taste,” approach. Either way, your participation as an adult is a strong influencer.

Remember to thank your child for trying new foods. If he or she is not too impressed, remind the child that we are not obligated to like everything the first time we eat it, but that you are proud of them for being open-minded. Repeated exposures significantly impact child food preferences.

Since I’m obsessed with gardens, I must provide the plug for a family garden. When kids see carrots come out from the ground or pick beans by themselves, they are more likely to make a mental connection between the items in their natural state and how it ends up on a plate. For instance, young children don’t understand that French fries come from potatoes unless they are shown that connection. Increasing that home-grown or homemade factor is an opportunity for teaching.

Finally, keep trying and using different presentations. Kids usually don’t recognize a full-size carrot as being the source of baby carrots, or as those being the same thing as the little orange chunk in soup. These connections can be expanded on through visual comparisons and taste tests. Then, anything that is already liked can be expanded on. For instance, an apple can be eaten in wedges with nut butter, baked into chips, reduced into applesauce, or reinvented into apple nachos for a special occasion.

Taste tests are an excellent approach to introduce new foods into a child’s diet. We are proud to have started this effort in schools, and we hope that families can teach children how to bravely taste new foods.

emily-photoThis blog was written by Emily Ackerman.

Emily is the current MN GreenCorps member serving with CentraCare Health Foundation in the BLEND offices. Her project this year will be incorporating Farm-to-School initiatives into four sites within the St. Cloud area. Her education background includes a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with hopes to attend PA school in the future. She is a self-described foodie with an interest in local gardens and creating better access to healthy food!

Celebrating Farm-to-School!

September 30, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

Cork, Ireland

October is National Farm-to-School Month! 

In our local region, this is a fairly new initiative and we want to shed more light on why we care. Let’s dive into the philosophy of Farm-to-School, or F2S as we may abbreviate. The Farm-to-School (or -Cafeteria) movement is taking the nation by storm, and for good reason!

F2S is considered a win-win for our community. The reality is, not every child has dinner at home, let alone a healthy option. By providing fresh fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria, young students consume nutrients required for development and learning, plus they will have the opportunity to learn about agriculture.

The community farmers benefit by earning a reliable income. Farmers reinvest income into their business operations, such as storage systems or more effective harvesting equipment. This helps their production efforts and business growth. Their profits then go into family and community support rather than a huge corporation. Our local economy is strengthened when we support the growers.

Speaking of growers, having that connection of F2S allows for key staff members to visit the farms. We want to check the sanitation and growing practices and we have that quality control through our farmer relationships. Farmers may also plan crops to better reflect needs of schools or allow schools to take extras at a low cost. These perks only happen due to the relationship.

Finally, we love local foods because it is environmentally friendly. The fewer miles that an item has traveled, the less gases were emitted from the truck or airplane. We also decrease packaging costs and waste. Many smaller farms also choose to stay more on the organic side, which is helpful to both the earth and our health.

Farm-to-School is challenged by winter, but before the frost comes, we will use this month to highlight local foods for our students and celebrate the small victories we do make.

Want to Learn More?

Check out the official F2S website here, and stay tuned for updates and educational pieces throughout the month!

emily-photoThis blog was written by Emily Ackerman.

Emily is the current MN GreenCorps member serving with CentraCare Health Foundation in the BLEND offices. Her project this year will be incorporating Farm-to-School initiatives into four sites within the St. Cloud area. Her education background includes a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with hopes to attend PA school in the future. She is a self-described foodie with an interest in local gardens and creating better access to healthy food!