FARM TO SCHOOL

Cape Coral Living - - Publisher's Letter - BY CRAIG GAR­RETT

Amy Ryals-Soto is pre­par­ing lunch for the ba­bies. To­day's menu is puréed veg­gies and fresh fruit. Then she'll prep a fresh meal for the tod­dlers, no canned stuff or bleached flours in the recipe. Which may not cor­re­late to the pleas­ant na­ture of the Cape Co­ral-based Seedlings Academy lunch­room in Fort My­ers. Then again, it just may.

Amy Ryals-Soto is pre­par­ing lunch for the ba­bies. To­day’s menu is puréed veg­gies and fresh fruit. Then she’ll prep a fresh meal for the tod­dlers, no cans or bleached flours in the recipe. Which may not cor­re­late to the pleas­ant na­ture of the Seedlings Academy lunch­room in Fort My­ers, the youngest chil­dren calmly gob­bling puréed car­rots, fruits and berries, the older preschool­ers munch­ing on baked turkey or ground turkey sausage, green beans, or­ganic noo­dles and orange melon, or­ganic milk to wash things down. But then again nu­tri­tious food just may be why the lunch­room in late morn­ing is mel­low―no pro­cessed foods laced in preser­va­tives and sug­ars that re­search deems less healthy, that may prompt or com­ple­ment a child’s mood swings, his/her in­abil­ity to keep up be­cause they’re sleepy or jumpy from the sweet­en­ers. Cape Co­ral-based Seedlings Academy and other South­west Florida learn­ing cen­ters are on the fresh-food band­wagon, pro­vid­ing or­ganic, frozen or fresh meals to chil­dren en­rolled in their pro­grams. Pub­lic schools are also on­board, par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Smarter Lunch­rooms Move­ment, a project in Florida that pushes the idea of sur­plus farm and school gar­den pro­duce and farm-style recipes cir­cling back into school cafe­te­rias. Florida agri­cul­ture agen­cies, in fact, send chefs to pub­lic schools to teach food-prep tech­niques and to help shape cafe­te­ria menus. The big pic­ture is a na­tional push by the U.S. Depart­ment of

Agri­cul­ture, health groups and oth­ers to wean chil­dren from less-nu­tri­tious foods. The old food pyra­mid guide­lines, in fact, have been re­placed with MyPlate, which is more about grains and pro­teins, heavy on veg­gies and fruits. For­mer First Lady Michelle Obama backed the nu­tri­tion pro­gram as part of her Let’s Move cam­paign. How­ever, Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have re­cently in­di­cated some of the nu­tri­tion guide­lines may be rolled back. The fresh-food move­ment in South­west Florida schools co­in­cides with the food as medicine push at such places as Lee Health, which in some cases means pre­scrib­ing plant­based or whole-food di­ets to those with health prob­lems. Lee Health is Florida’s only hos­pi­tal sys­tem to pre­scribe such di­ets to qual­i­fy­ing pa­tients. Seedlings Academy started of­fer­ing nat­u­ral food meals in 2014 when its di­rec­tor pur­chased the Cape Co­ral preschool. Al­lie Kil­burn Kamin­ski says fresh food seemed right, although some par­ents at first dis­agreed and bailed. En­roll­ment has re­bounded, Kil­burn Kamin­ski open­ing a sec­ond Seedlings at the for­mer Pace Cen­ter for Girls in Fort My­ers. Both preschools also pro­vide an “or­gan­i­cally nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” mean­ing that staff mem­bers use chem­i­cal-free di­a­pers, wipes, creams, sun­screens and bug sprays. The hu­mor, if it is such, is that Seedlings’ chil­dren

some­times fuss when the broc­coli is gone. And par­ents of­ten in­vite them­selves for lunch, she says, smil­ing. “We do what you do for your own child,” Kil­burn Kamin­ski says, her tod­dler daugh­ter in a nearby high­chair toss­ing back cut green beans like candy kisses. “The best way to go is to do what’s best for the kids.” Watch­ing our chil­dren get heav­ier in the last 30 years has prompted re­duc­tions in lunch­room sug­ars, starches and salts, health of­fi­cials in­sist, and fewer heat-and-serve items, more fresh greens and fruits. Some schools have also added ex­tra recess time to get these chil­dren out and play­ing, some­thing fewer of them do than their ear­lier coun­ter­parts. An­other coun­ter­mea­sure is to al­low those on pub­lic as­sis­tance to use the Sup­ple­men­tal Nu­tri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram, or SNAP, card for food plant seeds and pot­ted plants. Obe­sity af­fects a range of things, in­clud­ing class­room fo­cus/ energy, mood swings and poor self-esteem, ac­cord­ing to re­search. The greater prob­lem is that un­healthy chil­dren morph into un­healthy adults, those par­ents teach­ing their kids it’s OK to load the shop­ping cart with junk food. Preschools pro­vid­ing health­ier menus are vi­tal for a con­cerned mom, says Catha­rina Ro­man­ski, the mother of a small boy at Fort My­ers Seedlings Academy. “It has been a great ex­pe­ri­ence,” she says of her child’s fur­ther in­tro­duc­tion to fresh foods. Nu­tri­tion­ists blame our snack­ing cul­ture on a food in­dus­try that stuffs pack­aged good­ies with preser­va­tives. Yet the

an­swers are as plain as the leafy stuff on store shelves, says Jen­nifer Hagen, a fam­ily con­sumer sciences agent with Lee County Ex­ten­sion. It’s an agri­cul­tural, sus­tain­able liv­ing and nat­u­ral re­sources agency with the Univer­sity of Florida’s In­sti­tute of Food and Agri­cul­tural Sciences. The agency, for ex­am­ple, is tak­ing gar­den­ing and culi­nary train­ing to an east Fort My­ers neigh­bor­hood of mostly low-in­come fam­i­lies, Hagen ex­plains. Such ar­eas are called food deserts, places where there are fewer fresh fruits and veg­gies in cor­ner mar­kets. Chil­dren in these food deserts will more likely con­sume candy, chips and sweet drinks, only be­cause these are the only avail­able things, Hagen and oth­ers agree. Also, bet­ter food can get ex­pen­sive. So county agents cir­cu­late in Florida, teach­ing and coax­ing the farm-to-ta­ble/farm-to-school mes­sages, part­ner­ing with Good­will and state farm­ers to spon­sor gar­den­ing and kitchen work­shops to those liv­ing in food deserts, for ex­am­ple. Franklin Park El­e­men­tary in Fort My­ers has started a food-shar­ing gar­den­ing part­ner­ship, as have other schools in Florida. Stu­dents at Cape Co­ral’s Trafal­ger Mid­dle School pick veg­gies from the school gar­den for a culi­nary class. The school also of­fers cer­ti­fied agri-science cour­ses to its stu­dents. The farm-to-ta­ble move­ment has taken over large cities that en­cour­age farm­ing on va­cant parcels in Chicago and Detroit, for ex­am­ple, pro­duce that reaches and feeds thou­sands. Many ur­ban farm­ers to­day have bright fu­tures. The move away from meat to plant di­ets is gain­ing energy in Amer­ica, with its es­ti­mated 7.3 mil­lion veg­e­tar­i­ans, some 23 mil­lion choos­ing some form of a veg­gie diet. Lee Health doc­tors

last year, for ex­am­ple, started pre­scrib­ing plant-based di­ets and light ex­er­cise for those with hy­per­ten­sion and pre-di­a­betic/weight prob­lems. It was termed a life­style change, some­times com­ple­mented with medicine. But the hos­pi­tal’s goal is get pa­tients off meds―en­tirely. Those re­sults have been star­tling, ad­min­is­tra­tors in­sist. Lee Health also in­tro­duced an in­te­gra­tive medicine com­po­nent in Bonita of natur­opa­thy and home­opa­thy treat­ments, a blend­ing of Western tech­nol­ogy and East­ern method­ol­ogy. Although in­surance doesn’t cover such care, those seek­ing a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to health line up at the door, says Dr. Heather Auld, the in­te­gra­tive medicine pro­gram’s di­rec­tor. Back at Seedlings Academy in Fort My­ers, the first lunch shift is end­ing. Like their par­ents might, the chil­dren pat their bel­lies, ready to tackle the rest of the day. There is, how­ever, a side ef­fect to a healthy diet of fresh veg­gies and fruit, says Kathy Hag­mann, the school’s di­rec­tor―the lit­tle ones use lots of di­a­pers. “They’re healthy, you can tell that,” she says, smil­ing.

The fresh nu­tri­tion move­ment in Florida schools co­in­cides with the food as medicine push in hos­pi­tals such as Lee Health in Fort My­ers.

Amy Ryals-Soto is chef at the Seedlings Academy in Fort My­ers. She uses no pro­cessed or canned foods in pre­par­ing meals for kids at the preschool. It’s part of Florida’s push to get fresh/ or­ganic foods in lunch­rooms.

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