DES MOINES - As childhood obesity continues to be a concern to health officials, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, together with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Department of Education, has grant money and programs for communities to help teach children about healthy eating habits, while promoting Iowa-grown foods.
Tammy Stotts is coordinator for the "Iowa Farm to School" program. Started in 2007, its mission is to teach preschool through 12-grade students about overall good health and eating habits.
They do this, Stotts said, through teaching students how to obtain locally-grown food, demonstrating the importance of eating fresh fruit and vegetables from Iowa, planting gardens at school, taking field trips to local farms and orchards, encouraging schools to purchase kitchen equipment that better serves the needs of students, taking part in educational presentations and food fairs, and doing classroom activities that promote healthy eating and Iowa-grown foods.
"There are a lot of FTS activities occurring out there," said Stotts. "There are 23 full-fledged FTS chapters in Iowa, with lots of other schools doing other parts of the FTS initiative."
The majority of the funding comes from USDA's Specialty Crop Lot Grants.
Stotts said the FTS initiative can be brought to any school by anyone in that community. Stotts said there should be at least seven members on a committee. Anyone can get the FTS initiative started, but committees do need to have one school administration representative and one school food service person on the start-up committee.
Each chapter can receive up to $4,000 to create a plan for their school.
"It can be a small school district, or even as big as Des Moines, which has one Farm To School chapter," said Stotts, adding that the FTS initiative is happening in seven states in the Midwest. "There could even be different schools coming together to form one chapter."
Stotts said there are other branches of the FTS initiative. These are:
Funds of $350 to $500 were awarded to purchase supplies necessary to create school gardens or create raised garden beds. Schools also received seeds and planners, and an age-appropriate curriculum about growing gardens.
Since that year, more than 6,500 students in more than 60 schools have benefited from that initiative, which also promotes classroom teaching - from math fractions to cooking with fresh apples.
Students read apple books, created apple skits and visited apple orchards.
The goal is to promote the purchase of locally-grown vegetables and products to create wraps.
By 2011, 11 schools signed up to participate, with some of them going on to participate in the recipe contest. Each of the 11 schools received $200 to purchase local fruits and vegetables, wrap papers and more.
The Olwein School District went on to receive an extra $300 because of their extra efforts.
There are photo contests, rap video contests and food safety promotions, all encouraging students to look around their state and see the value in the foods that are grown there that are fresh and readily available.
The FTS initiative is strong in central, northeast and southeast Iowa, Stotts said.
Within the Farm News coverage area, Story and Cerro Gordo counties have established FTS chapters, while other counties have implemented outreaches of that initiative, including Osceola, Pocahontas and Humboldt counties started the Wrap Your Own initiative.
Pocahontas, Carroll, Webster and Story counties have done the A is for Apple initiative, while Webster, Dallas and Story counties have participated in the Garden is the Way to Grow initiative.
"We've gotten good feedback from these initiatives. Now we need to get more growers to work with schools," Stotts said, adding that growers can bid to grow fresh fruit and vegetables to be used for school lunches.
She said the school district in Independence has frozen sweet corn, green beans and strawberries for use in their school lunch program because of these initiatives.
Stotts said school children do seem to like what is happening.
"School gardens have become a positive reward for the kids," Stotts said. "They want to get out and work in the gardens weeding and trying the garden foods, and it's good exercise.
"And by promoting the FTS initiatives, we're making kids aware of the taste and availability of locally-grown foods. These kids don't have buying power right now, but someday they will."
For more information on how to get the FTS initiative or any of the branch initiatives going in area schools, contact Stotts at (515) 281-7657, or email her at tammy.stotts.@iowaagriculture.gov.