Over the years, Tupelo, Mississippi’s farm-to-school program has taken strides to give their students access to healthy, locally grown foods. This September, Growing Healthy Waves, Tupelo Public School District’s farm-to-school initiative, launched its Veggiemon Go project. Capitalizing on the popularity of Pokemon Go, the project encourages elementary students to embrace local foods using the slogan, “Gotta Eat ‘Em All!”
Collaboration trumps competition: Veggiemon Go!
In this version of Pokemon, the community has come together to make this project a success. For the first taste test of the year, the productions class at Tupelo’s local middle school designed a sweet potato “Veggiemon” card, which is awarded to students who try the local sweet potatoes in the school-wide cafeteria taste test. The “Sweeto Taterdude” Veggiemon card is designed to incorporate healthy facts about sweet potatoes and their special attributes.
Topashaw Farms, a local sweet potato farm, joined in the fun by donating the sweet potatoes for the taste tests. Joyful volunteers, parents, and hardworking cafeteria workers came together to create a healthy recipe for the students to try. The potatoes were cut and roasted with cinnamon, and the success was smashing; nearly 500 children were polled, and majority of students “LOVED IT!”
This innovative fun with food is all possible thanks to the Project Produce grant through the Chef Ann Foundation. The grant provides funds to source local fruits and vegetables for students, but it was left to the recipient to use creativity and ingenuity to achieve that goal. The Growing Healthy Waves program teaches children about healthy eating in the best way possible: through food itself. Students work in school gardens, support local food systems, and enjoy the fruits of their own labors in cafeteria taste tests. The collaboration within the community and school district will continue throughout the year in taste tests as harvests-of-the-month are transformed into Veggiemon or Fruitemon characters!
Over 31 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program, whose purpose is “to promote the health and well-being of the nation’s children”. Farm-to-school programs further this mission by helping children’s healthy habits take root. Children in schools with garden programs eat more fruits and vegetables, and are more willing to try new foods, such as those sourced from local farms.
When children access healthy foods at an early age, they set the stage for a healthy lifestyle moving forward. This is what motivates farm-to-school programs, and what is generating their growth into more schools throughout the country. They support communities by strengthening the local economy, empowering students to make healthy choices, and it is clear that the farm-to-school movement is only gaining momentum.
In this small close-knit city, the farm-to-school movement is an enduring and growing program. The children at the schools tell their parents and their parents share with their friends. In this sense, Growing Healthy Waves is liable to have a broad-reaching ripple effect. Farm-to-school movements thrive off local community efforts; and with small, yet significant milestones like incorporating local sweet potatoes into a creative taste test, we are on our way to growing a healthy generation of fruit and vegetable lovers.