School Food Fresh From The Farm

by Michael Short on August 31, 2010

By Michael Short

Clifton Toomey Jr. is honored for his work to provide students with farm fresh food. Indian River Superintendent Dr. Susan Bunting and Board President Charles Bireley (right) are also shown.

Students in the Indian River School District have a chance to feast on farm fresh food that was on the vine just hours ago.

The district has used a USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) grant to help provide fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income schools. The program, which costs the district nothing, began as a pilot last year at Frankford Elementary School and has now been expanded to cover a total of five district schools. The USDA grant is for approximately $150,000.

Nutrition Services Coordinator Clifton Toomey Jr. was honored for his efforts by the Indian River School Board on Aug. 24. The grant is limited to low-income schools and will cover John M. Clayton School (the new home for Frankford Elementary), North Georgetown Elementary, East Millsboro Elementary, Phillip Showell Elementary and Georgetown Elementary this year.

Toomey said the program helps the district combat childhood obesity, teaches students about farms and food, encourages healthy eating habits and helps support the local community.

“It’s important for kids to know where food comes from,” he said.

Childhood obesity is a growing national concern. Just this week, Congressman Michael Castle spoke in Milford about childhood obesity. A press release from Castle’s office said approximately one third of children are overweight or obese and many don’t have access to quality food.

Castle spoke in support of re-authorizing the Child Nutrition Act.

Dr. Sandra Hassink, a pediatrician and director of the Nemours Obesity Initiative spoke during Castle’s visit on August 30.  “As a pediatrician who specializes in treating obesity, I have a special plea for Congress: Please put me out of a job. I would like nothing better than to have an empty clinic and healthy children everywhere. Reauthorizing the child nutrition programs is a critical step guaranteeing all our children a healthy future.”

Toomey also tries to support local farms by buying locally grown fruits and vegetables. Part of that is done through the grant program. But he also uses some of his regular budget to try to buy local food for all of the district schools.

So, students were greeted in the spring with luscious local strawberries dripping with juice. Some of them were nearly as big as a 50-cent piece. And when the students come back to school in a few days, they will feast on approximately 290 red, ripe watermelons.

Those efforts mean the food is fresher, more nutritious and more likely to be eaten by students. It’s also a boost for local farmers suffering from record heat and weather extremes.

Toomey likes to point out that the schools are a part of the community and that buying locally helps to support that community.

“They taste even better because they were just picked the day before or even that morning from a field next to the school,” Toomey said.

There have even been comments that the fresh, tasty food may help improve the attention span of students.

The one drawback seems to be that when most of Delaware’s most luscious and juicy produce is at its’ peak, the students are still in the midst of summer break.

But there’s always spring strawberries and last season watermelons to tempt the taste buds.

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