Wisconsin Examiner

MPS Receives Urban Agriculture Grant

USDA grant program is providing MPS $50,000 to expand program at A.E. Burdick School.

By , Wisconsin Examiner - Jul 30th, 2021 12:23 pm

A USDA Farm to School grant program is set to send more than $200,000 to Wisconsin. (Department of Public Instruction/Wisconsin Examiner)

More than $200,000 in grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is set to help schools across Wisconsin build or expand school garden programs and connect districts with local farmers.

The USDA Farm to School Grant program, established to bring more local food sources and better nutrition to students, is providing money to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), Milwaukee Public Schools and Rooted, a Madison-based organization that builds school gardens across the state.

“Really all of it is about connecting kids, teachers and families to local, healthy food systems and to support overall health and wellbeing of elementary aged students,” Ginny Hughes, Rooted’s deputy director of operations.

DPI is set to receive about $70,000 to build a program that teaches school nutritionists and administrators how to establish and maintain school garden programs. Rooted is receiving $100,000 to build a school garden curriculum and strengthen its already existing school garden network. Milwaukee Public Schools will receive nearly $50,000 to expand an urban agriculture program at A. E. Burdick School on Milwaukee’s south side.

Rooted will use part of its grant money to convince school administrators that these programs are worth investing in.

“It’s not necessarily a part of the standards and curriculums that teachers need to teach to their kids so it ends up seeming like one more thing and the resources to support it are a barrier, because it takes people,” Hughes says.

Even in a state with a $100 billion agriculture industry, most programs that connect schools with local food producers are new. A USDA survey found that of the 70% of schools with farm to school programs, almost half of them were created in the last three years. Only 45% of schools served locally produced milk at least once a week, the survey found.

“It’s the dairy state and yet those connections aren’t being made on the very local level,” Hughes says.

Brittany Zerbe, a public health nutritionist at DPI who helped write the agency’s grant application, says the problem is twofold. Connections with local producers aren’t happening and often districts don’t even realize when they’re serving local food because it just comes from their regular vendor.

“I think the first thing we’ve noticed is a lot of schools don’t realize they’re doing farm to school when they are,” Zerbe says. “Some schools might be purchasing milk that’s coming from a farm in Wisconsin but they don’t think about that aspect of it because it’s coming from their main vendor. They’re not thinking that’s considered farm to school or a local purchase. The more we educate schools on what is farm to school and even what small activities are, the more we advertise.”

Part of the new programs created by the grant will be a partnership between DPI and the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to help school administrators learn how to access the food grown in their own communities.

“It takes a while to get some of that stuff going, getting buy-in from administration, how to connect with a local farmer, where those farmers are, the relationship of how a farmer sells to a school, there’s a lot of pieces where this grant can help,” Zerbe says.

Both Rooted and DPI will also use the money to expand school garden programs across the state. For Rooted, that means providing resources to teachers and school nutritionists and for DPI that means bringing districts that have established programs together with others in their area to show them how to best use a garden.

“We’d like to grow those gardens,” Zerbe says. “Not only are they really good learning opportunities but it allows schools to use the fruits of those gardens in their meal programs. We’ll be conducting workshops around the state in both urban and rural areas. We plan to highlight the stages of a school garden life cycle. These workshops will include seed starting, gardening, weeding, harvesting, composting, processing and serving local foods.”

For DPI, the money will help school leaders build programs that ultimately help students nutritionally and educationally. But for Hughes and Rooted, the goal is to make sure students can see the process of growing something on their own.

“For us it’s very much based in the land and based in the school garden and getting kids outside and having them see the awareness of that carrot growing in the ground and harvested from the ground,” Hughes says. “Kids having that relationship with food changes how they eat, it changes how their families eat.”

USDA grants set to grow school garden, local food programs across the state was originally published by the Wisconsin Examiner. 


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