ST. PAUL, Minn.(9/13/2013)—Minnesota schools that bring locally grown fruits and vegetables to their cafeterias are encouraged to take it up a notch in September.
Schools can qualify for the "Eat Smart Food" contest coordinated by University of Minnesota Extension and the Minnesota Departments of Agriculture and Education by demonstrating an increase in the volume and variety of fruits and vegetables purchased per student, as well as educational outreach on farm-to-school programming.
"When it comes to nutrition, it's hard to think of a better way to start the school year than by participating in the Eat Smart Food Contest. By promoting healthy competition among schools, we're also prioritizing healthy eating habits among youngsters," said Susan DeBlieck, Extension educator and state lead for the National Farm to School Network. "There's a wonderful array of locally grown fruits and vegetables going from local farmers and distributors to our school cafeterias. This contest helps renew and reinforce that connection."
To compete, schools must participate in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP). FFVP operates under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service and is administered by the state education department.
The three winning schools will receive prizes valued at $1,000 apiece to support their farm-to-school efforts. They'll also receive a visit from Olympic runner Carrie Tollefson; she is spokeswoman for the agriculture department's Minnesota Grown program, which champions locally grown produce.
"Students get excited when they learn the origin of their food or who grew their food. Making that connection at a young age is important. The Eat Smart Food Contest will provide support to schools and farmers to continue their farm to school efforts. It is always great when schools and farmers get the recognition they deserve for a job well done," said Gail Anderson, coordinator for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program at the Minnesota Department of Education.
The contest coincides with the September celebration of Farm to School Month. Farm-to-school programs aim to improve children's overall diet and create healthier eating habits now and in the future.
In Minnesota, schools engaged in farm-to-school efforts have increased from just 20 in 2006 to 145 in 2011. Apples, tomatoes, potatoes and cucumbers are among the most common locally grown items served in Minnesota schools.
"This contest is a great example of how state agencies are working together for the benefit of children and farmers alike. We're especially excited about Carrie Tollefson's role in this contest. Her background as an Olympic athlete who grew up in a small town in rural Minnesota really resonates with students and helps them understand the importance of eating healthy, locally grown foods and staying physically active," said Paul Hugunin of the MDA's domestic marketing team.
More information is available from DeBlieck at 320-203-6105 or email@example.com.
For more news from U of M Extension, visit www.extension.umn.edu/news or contact Extension Communications at firstname.lastname@example.org. University of Minnesota Extension is an equal opportunity educator and employer.