Wood County Wisconsin Connects Youth to Locally Grown Food
A recent article in Forbes magazine lauded the efforts of Wood County residents, schools and officials for their outstanding use of Affordable Care Act funds (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) to foster programs that connect area youth with local farmers. These efforts have not only promoted better eating habits among the youth and their families, they have inspired students to take part in a wide range of activities — including growing, maintaining and harvesting their own vegetables and fruits in school-based gardens.
For Wood County, it all started three years ago when Wood County health officials and advocates initiated a program that connect students to local farmers. Their goal? To promote healthy lifestyles and eating habits that would help students stay fit and prevent chronic disease. Students visited local farms and were supplied with a variety of fruits and vegetables they could sample in school.
Over the last three years, this program has grown. All six school districts in the county now have Farm to School programs and they no longer simply sample the fruits and veggies of local farmers — they’ve incorporated the fresh produce into the lunch menu. The pilot programs initially ordered 750 pounds of fresh, local produce — now they order 10,000 pounds.
Wood County has started establishing processing centers to help can and store local produce for winter school menus. A dozen Wood County schools now have school gardens and a greenhouse that helps counter Wisconsin’s short growing season. The students continue to visit local farms and one resident has kindly donated a large plot of land for the students’ gardens.
The changes haven’t only affected schools — but the community as well. Workplace wellness programs have sprung up throughout the county and the vending machines of city and county offices are now stocked with healthy snack alternatives.
Hats off to Wood County for supporting their local economy while working to improve the health of their residents.