Eureka, Mo. (KMOX) – There’s a younger crowd benefiting from the new focus on buying and serving locally grown and raised food.
For the last several years, one St. Louis area school district has been feeding students produce that comes fresh from the fields.
Staff in the Eureka High School kitchen cut up massive watermelons brought in that morning. Just a couple hours earlier, a forklift at the Rockwood School District’s warehouse was pulling that load of melons off the back of John Kopmann’s pick-up truck. Once a week, the owner of “Three Girls and a Tractor” makes the 45 minute drive from Marthasville, Missouri to supply Rockwood schools with fresh produce. “It ended being where they could use a lot more than we though they would have.” In the last several years Kopmann estimates these deliveries have grown to 15 percent of his overall business. “That was one thing we were wondering if it was going to be enough to make the trip worthwhile, but it definitely is.”
The District’s Director of Child Nutrition Services, Carmen Fisher, grew up on a farm herself. “I have two boys and when they go out the farm to help weed and plant and harvest, they’ll eat the spinach, the strawberries fresh out of the garden and how that has influenced them. They’re great eaters”
She was eager to give students in her district that same taste of home-grown. “Watermelon, cantelope, peppers, zucchini , squash, eggplant, tomatoes.” And they get kids to eat it all. “We do! A lot of times they don’t know what it is, so it’s just educating them about the new fruits and vegetables we have. And then the watermelon is so sweet and the cantelope and the product is so fresh and tastes great.”
Fischer says while buying local costs a little more, there’s less waste. “Kids will eat the product and it’s not thrown away. It’s fresher. You don’t have to go through the lettuce and dispose of parts that might have spoiled in transit, because we get it so fresh.”
Farmer John Kopmann points out there’s another benefit to eating produce picked just before delivery. “The fresher you get it the more nutritious too. So when they’re getting it straight from the farm it’s more valuable to the kids too.”
But before Fischer would offer locally-grown goods to her kitchen managers, she had a lot of questions about how Three Girls and a Tractor manages it’s crops. “I’m very interested in sustainable practices. It doesn’t have to be certified organic but I like to see that it’s organic practices or close to it.”
Kopmann has adapted management of his crops to the school year. “You try to up your production in the fall when the school’s open. We’ve definitely planted a lot more lettuce and spinach through the fall and winter and spring to meet their needs too.” Kopmann uses hoop houses — a series of covered arches in his fields — to stretch the local growing season. The partnership’s been such a success. He hopes to expand operations. His wise planning filled a gap earlier this year. “Early spring… …nationwide there’s a lettuce shortage and we had a hard time bringing in lettuce from our regular produce provider, and they [Three Girls and a Tractor] had fresh lettuce. That was fantastic. We could still provide salads for our kids.”
Even lunch is part of a child’s education, says Fischer. “Our job is to teach kids about good nutrition and provide them healthy options.”