Carmel Clay School Lunch Program Brings Plot to Plate
The Carmel Clay school district launched its community garden in 2013. With emphasis on locally grown food, school officials are trying to teach the concept of healthy eating while meeting government nutritional standards through the foods it serves.
“The USDA’s new school nutrition guidelines require the students to take a fruit or a vegetable with their meal in order to purchase what is considered a full meal at the established price; otherwise, they get charged the à la carte price for each piece of their meal, which is more expensive,” said Anne-Marie Woerner, assistant coordinator, food and nutrition services at Carmel Clay Schools.
“Our community garden is helping us to expand those fresh choices while getting the students involved in the growing cycle.”
Emphasis is placed on teaching where food comes from and how to grow it at home. The third-graders already conduct seed studies as part of their science curriculum. The district is now taking it a step further by working with teachers to have some of the classes transplant their seed sprouts into the garden to grow food in order to demonstrate the connection between the seed and the plant.
“School gardens are said to go a long way in helping kids feel ownership and familiarity with greens,” said Woerner. “Being involved in the growing cycle can help the students make the final connection to the food itself. We have found that our kids select the raw strips of peppers, along with the carrots, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes, jicama and broccoli from our lunch lines. We are going a step further by having them being involved in growing that very food.” The school plans to also leverage the connection between the gardens and worm farms that the students create as part of their seed study units by adding this material to the gardens.
With 15,000 students to feed, the district seeks out additional sources for fresh, local produce because all of it cannot be grown in the community garden. It currently uses vendors that supply the schools with local items such as apples, tomatoes and milk products, and has a large group of local farmers to partner with. In the fall, the school’s extra tomato harvest is going to be frozen and made into spaghetti sauce. Herbs are also going to be dried or frozen.
The land for the community garden is located on one of the district’s existing properties, and two school managers oversee parcels with help from community members. The main garden is called Plot to Plate. The district allows residents to rent personal space around it for a nominal fee. It has already received a lot of support from school officials and community volunteers, but the ultimate winners are the students.
“We want to let the children know that you can grow your own delicious produce,” said Woerner. “Even if our gardening efforts only inspire a few families to follow our efforts in producing their own food, we have at least made some progress in improving the health of those families.”