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Great partnerships, fresh produce, create a healthy, successful recipe for PCSD

PV Students in the Garden at the School November 25, 2019

 

The Parma City School District is taking healthy, nutritious meals in our schools to the next level, thanks to amazing national and local partnerships.


On October 29, 2019, Pleasant Valley Elementary School welcomed in guests from the United States Department of Agriculture, Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Department of Education, Cuyahoga County Department of Health and PCSD Nutrition Services representatives, as students showcased their revamped and updated Land Lab in the front of the school.


This Land Lab recently has transformed into an educational garden, providing students the ability enjoy fresh vegetables, literally grown right in their back yard, while learning lessons that should last a lifetime.


Thanks to a one-year, $10,950 grant from the Martha Jennings Holden Foundation and a great, local relationship with Spice Field Kitchen, Pleasant Valley’s garden has become a space to educate students and families about plants, gardening and farming techniques.


Since the beginning of the school year, students have been working to grow kale and spinach in the garden. The event on October 29 let students harvest these vegetables, and provide a taste test for the nearly 800 students at the building.


“We believe that fresh, healthy, locally sourced foods are a foundation for a healthy future,” Bob Gorman, PCSD Nutrition Services Supervisor explained. “There are more and more studies coming out all the time where there is a direct correlation between how many kids are eating fresh fruits and vegetables and good grades.” 


In March 2017, the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted a study of all public school students in California over a five-year period, from 2008 through 2013. They found when students at 9,700 public schools were provided a healthier lunch, student test scores increased by about 4 percentile points. In addition, test scores were about 40 percent higher for students who qualified for free and reduced lunches during this time period - just by eating a meal with higher quality nutrition standards.


“I think often food services is overlooked when it comes to grades,” Gorman added. “We are a piece to the puzzle. It’s not just about feeding kids. It’s not about giving them french fries, and ice cream and pizza every day just because they like it. It’s about offering them choices which they can then make smart decisions about what they eat.”


“In this day and age with health issues being what they are for Americans, and a disconnect between where your food comes from and how it affects your local economy,  this is the reason we have started and have this curriculum for these kids,” Steve Baker,  Chief Operating Officer of Spice Field Kitchen explained. “You want them to be able to open their minds and to try new things. But, even more so, it’s changing their perception of food...It’s connecting where their food comes from.”

 

Partnerships with the USDA and with farmers for fresh, local produce has benefitted more than just students. It has provided enhanced educational and nutritional opportunities for families, and helps support local farmers and economies as well.


Thanks to a $47,000 USDA Farm to School Planning Grant that PCSD was awarded in 2019, the PCSD continues to seek opportunities to build and implement healthy farm to table programming throughout the district and community through collaboration with all district programming such as Career Technical Education, Special Education and Nutrition Services.

 

“A lot of schools have school gardens, but it’s really just about connecting those dots,” Jenna Segal, USDA Farm to School Regional Lead for the Midwest Region, explained. “Are they using the garden produce in the cafeteria, are they doing it in classroom taste tests? Are they doing more nutritional education? Or, are they really connecting all the curricular aspects of the school? That’s the purpose of this planning grant, is to really build those connections, and really try to integrate it across the school system.”


Starting this winter, Pleasant Valley students will begin growing next year’s vegetables indoors, ready to plant when the springtime arrives. In the meantime, Gorman and his team will continue to feed PCSD students with as much locally-sourced produce and goods as possible, in an effort to change the discussion about nutrition both in school and at home.


“It’s often, us adults, holding the kids back,” Gorman expressed. “We are just assuming kids don’t like beets, that they don’t like dark, leafy greens. It’s because we never serve it to them...When you do the Farm to School practices, and you have them grow it, try it, and you have them explain why they like it, and why they don’t like it, that’s where the magic really starts and where it all really begins.”

 

PHOTO CAPTION: Pleasant Valley students smell and taste some mint grown in the school’s garden. Vegetables grown in the garden will be used in the school’s cafeteria and salad bar.