Three of Marshall County's elementary schools are participating in a new federally-funded fresh fruits and vegetables program that runs through Sept. 30, 2009.
Oak Grove, Westhills and Marshall Elementary are sharing almost $100,000 to be spent exclusively on fresh produce.
Thirty-four schools across the state have been accepted into the USDA program for this year. Schools submitted applications to be considered and were selected based on factors such as staff commitment, efficient use of resources, and innovative promotional efforts.
"It's been a lot of work," said Larissa Delk, Food Service Supervisor. "We've been kind of like guinea pigs, and it's definitely been a learning process."
Delk says they originally thought the fruits and vegetables could be offered during meals, but then word came from the government that they had to be separate from meals. Fitting that into the schedule for children, teachers, and cafeteria workers was challenging, but Delk says, "I think we've got the kinks worked out now and it's been really rewarding."
"We have a fairly high rate of children getting free and reduced-cost meals, and most of these students just don't see fresh fruits and vegetables at home. It's a great opportunity to show kids things they haven't seen before," explains Delk.
She worked with Heather Lodari, the school health coordinator, to design a program that would be both educational and delicious. They kicked off with a buffet of fresh foods. The tables were decorated, music played, and Delk reports, "The kids went wild over the strawberries!"
Peaches and pumpkins were accompanied by a lesson on fruits that grow with different kinds of seeds, and this week the offering is pineapple and plums.
A newsletter is going home with the children every month to tell parents what fruits and vegetables their children saw and tried, and it will include sample recipes.
"With rising healthcare costs at the forefront of the nation's attention, the ability to instill good health habits early has risen to urgent status," Governor Phil Bredesen said. "Tennessee is taking advantage of every opportunity to teach students how to make healthful choices and reinforce those lessons where young people spend much of their time - in our schools."
"Eating right is one of life's simplest lessons to learn yet often difficult to maintain," Representative Eddie Bass said. "Our schools make an important investment in the health of students when they elect to promote nutritious foods and an active lifestyle."
"You can't teach a hungry child," said Delk, grateful for anything that helps her get children off to a better start on their school work.