Farm to School Connection boosts meal participation

TOWNSHEND — Thanks to the Student Council at Leland & Gray, three times as many students are eating breakfast now than at the start of the school year.

This increase came as result of work by Leland & Gray's Food Service Advisory Committee, led by school nurse Sara Dunbar.

Leland & Gray was one of just a few Windham County schools to see an increase in meal participation last year, both at breakfast and lunchtime. However, breakfast participation was still relatively low, with less than half of students choosing to eat breakfast before school.

In an attempt to increase participation, the Student Council came forward with a suggestion: Serve breakfast during the 8-minute break between students' first and second classes.

The Abbey Group, the food service management company for Leland & Gray, decided that a traveling food cart would do the trick. They prepare breakfast in the kitchen, load the items onto a traveling cart, and set up shop in the hallway so that students can get breakfast on their way to their next class. The result was that participation has more than tripled.

School Superintendent Bill Anton said in a news release that he is excited to see more kids participating in the meal program.

“I am very proud that Leland & Gray has taken the lead in getting our students fed,” Anton said. “A healthy and satisfied student is a student ready to learn. I applaud our Food Service Advisory Committee leading the way. I am eager to see what creative strategy they come up with next.”

Not only is the school collaborating with the Abbey Group to increase meal participation, they also are looking to scale up their farm-to-school efforts.

Food Service Director Kelly Wojcik found time this fall to reconnect with Food Connects, an entrepreneurial nonprofit that delivers locally produced food as well as educational and consulting services aimed at transforming local food systems.

Kelly and her staff have committed to incorporating local products on their menu this year. October's menu featured the Vermont “harvest of the month” - kale - as well as apples, potatoes, corn, root vegetables, and cheese.

During the past few years, Leland & Gray has taken strides to bring farm and food education to its students, including the creation of a school garden and composting program. Garden produce has been donated to the cafeteria and the Jr. Iron Chef Program. By serving local products to students, the school reinforces this learning in the cafeteria, improves meal quality, and will likely see a further increase in meal participation.

The school has taken one other significant step toward reducing hunger this fall. With the support of the Stratton Foundation, Dunbar has created a school-based food shelf. This space, which includes a refrigerator and freezer, provides students and families the chance to fill a bag with food for the evening or the weekend.

The food shelf is currently being stocked with donations from staff, community members, and the Townshend Food Shelf.

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