School lunches get garden fresh with new program
Petersburg School District Food Services Director Carlee Wells hopes funds from a Farm to School grant will help students learn about nutritious meals.
Carlee Wells thinks school lunch is not all fun and games, but instead is another opportunity for learning.
For Wells, Petersburg School District Food Services Director, lunchtime is when students can learn where food comes from and how it's best prepared.
In order to ensure she's teaching engaging lessons, Wells is applying for the state's Farm to School Grant, for a second year to help with lunch and lessons at Rae C. Stedman Elementary School. Last year's grant of $500 from the state fund, went toward the purchase of seeds, starter kits, soil and warmers to keep the seedlings warm. The funds also provided for two fruit trees, which will arrive this spring, Wells said.
Under teacher supervision, four elementary school classes planted seeds in the starter kits. Another four classes planted the seedlings in the school/community garden on the school grounds. Last year, students harvested potatoes that were used in the school lunch and all of the students had a sample, Wells said.
This year, the students have planted green beans, carrots and tomatoes. “We will try to use the harvested fruits and vegetables in school lunches as much as we can,” Wells said.
“The whole idea is to show the students how to plant, harvest and cook the vegetables. Because, being in Alaska, the students can't just go down to the farm and see where food comes from. Here, it all comes from a barge,” she said.
Students at Rae C. Stedman Elementary School (left to right) Allie Davis, Mattias Volk, Leesa Murph, Miguel Sanches, Brennan Skeek plant tomato seeds that will later yield fruit for school lunches.
Wells is also working with Carrie Martinsen from Barnyard Blooms to plant apple trees this spring. The elementary school students will learn how to plant, grow and harvest. And the fresh produce will be used in the snack program or as teaching tools in the Middle School or High School food classes, according to Wells.
“The main thing I'm concerned about is the nutritious part of the meal,” said Wells. The 26-year-old graduate of Western Culinary Institute, in Portland, Ore., takes every opportunity she has to teach students about good nutrition.
“I don't believe in 'kid food,'” she said adding the harmful effects of daily meals consisting of overly-processed food such as Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. This year, Wells demonstrated her convictions by adding a salad bar as an option for school lunch at Stedman.
“I only get the students for 20 minutes, or however long it takes them to eat lunch, each day,” she said. “Kids eat by habit. Why not change the mind set, and have them making healthy choices?”