Defense Department grant puts state-raised food in schools

DESOTO COUNTY — Either by fork or fingers, the second- and third-grade students of Chickasaw Elementary in Olive Branch dived into some Magnolia-state raised blueberries and cantaloupes as a part of a farm to school awareness program.

Picking a blueberry up with her fingers, second-grader Mary Katherine Stephens, 8, liked the tiny cup of fruit on her plate.

“They taste like gumdrops,” she said.

Other students opted for a cup of cantaloupe.

“I’m so used to cantaloupes. My grandma plants them every day,” said Adrianna Jones, 8.

Many of the 560 students came dressed as farmers or chefs as a part of the “Farm to School” celebration.

All 42 public schools and almost 33,000 students in DeSoto County are getting more fruits and veggies on their school lunch plates this year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense awarded the school district a $100,000 grant earmarked to buy Mississippi-grown fruits and vegetables. While the Defense Department might seem like an unlikely lunch room partner, school officials say the DOD garners better prices for produce because of bulk purchases made for the military.

With more fruits and vegetables on the menu, school officials hope to tackle the bulging waistline of children as well. Mississippi leads the nation in childhood obesity.

“We want children to understand that blueberries do not come from the grocery store. They come from farmers nearby,” said communications director Katherine Nelson with DeSoto County Schools. “By serving things that are in season, it will help stimulate the economy in our own state.”

Depending on what is available and in season, students will be getting such state-grown fruits and vegetables as butter beans, broccoli, spinach, collard and turnip greens, peppers, squash, strawberries and sweet potatoes.

“This is giving the children a chance to try some things that they may not try at home. So it extends to their families too,” said Chickasaw Elementary principal Selina Baker.

A few students are still on the fence about some of the food choices. Corbin Krebs, 8, hadn’t touched the blueberries sitting on his plate.

“I’ll taste one,” he offered.

Popping one in his mouth, Corbin scrunched up his face. He tried another one. Again, the second-grader grimaced.

“They’re sour,” he announced.

At another table, Muria Lopez, also a second-grader, loved the cantaloupes: “It taste good and it’s sweet.”

At Chickasaw, which only has second- and-third graders, a number of students are venturing out of their food comfort zone.

When the school recently served baked and slightly salted sweet potatoes nuggets, Baker said one student told her, “It sure does taste better than it looks.”

 

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