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Hill City builds community with successful Farm2School program

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Hill City builds community with successful Farm2School program

Thanks to a little love from local farmers and educators, students of Hill City School are learning about the origin of food as part of a Farm2School program.

Implemented last year in Hill City after a successful (and continuing) run in nearby Rippleside Elementary School in Aitkin County, the program has already proven to be a welcome addition to the school’s lunch schedule, and a unique opportunity for students and community to come together in an appreciation for area farmers.

“The Farm2School program promotes healthy eating habits, supports neighboring small and mid-sized farmers, and builds the local economy,” explained Hannah Colby, SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Partnership) Coordinator for Aitkin County Farm2School and coordinator for the Rippleside Elementary and Hill City Public School programs. “The students [also] have the opportunity to learn where their food comes from by inviting the farmers to lunch on Farm2School days and sending home educational flyers.”

The Farm2School program, while a fun, innovative, and hands-on way to educate children about the origins of their food, as well as the importance of a well-balanced meal, is also an exciting opportunity for the school to open its doors to the community; especially as the school is currently undergoing transformations after the successful passage of a $4 million referendum to enhance the facility as a community space.

According to Joell Miranda, an ISD 002 board member who has been highly involved in the program, Farm2School day, which is a monthly celebration, has, since its creation, been attended by “many parents and grandparents that come to eat with their children or grandchildren.”

While the community, students and school staff are key pieces of the puzzle, no Farm2School day would be complete without the farmers and their local produce.

It is a process which, according to Miranda, begins with a request from the district to Aitkin County area farmers.

“We reach out to farmers through request for proposals on items we will be using for Farm2School during the school year,” explained Miranda. “Once we receive their proposals, we score them using a scoring system that I believe Amy and Wanda Blakesley (head cook at Rippleside) came up with.”

Contracts are then awarded to the highest scored farmer for each item.

“One of the main goals of the program is to teach students where food actually comes from,” said Miranda. “The other great benefit to this program is the chance to invest in our area farmers by buying locally sourced food.”

Annually, the district pays between $4,000 and $5,000 for the program, according to Miranda, with Shawn Kingsley, Hill City School Food Service Supervisor pursuing various grants and donations to offset some of those costs.

The program’s success has “rippled” down into area schools, with Independent School District (ISD) 318, already engaged in discussion with Colby. It is a discussion she hopes to continue and expound upon, both with the schools, and with area farmers.

“Hill City Public School is looking for more farmers in the Grand Rapids area to provide local farm fresh food to their students,” said Colby.

The school serves meat and eggs alongside fresh produce on their Farm2School menus, and they are in a particular need for ground beef for next year’s meals.

Farmers interested in selling their products to the school for next year’s meals, or those who simply want to learn more about how the process works, should contact Colby at 218-927-7271 or [email protected]

Hill City’s Farm2School committee will be sending out requests for proposals to farmers in late winter/early spring to secure contracts for the 2018-2019 school year.

For Miranda, the Farm2School program is a unique opportunity to support area farmers, as well as educate students and families about where food actually comes from. It is a win-win for all involved.

“[On Farm2School day,] the students get to eat a delicious and nutritious meal sourced locally with no preservatives and also get to have lunch with family members that come to visit that day,” explained Miranda. “The Farm2School lunch is a very special and exciting time for the students and I think it’s something they really look forward to.”

Future plans for the program include not only expanding participating farmer partners, but also discussions for a school and community garden.

“We would love to see it continue and hopefully snowball into a school and community garden in the near future,” said Miranda. “We would like to be able to grow foods right on the school property to use in our Farm2School program.”