Farm-to-school efforts ramp up in Lake Co.

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POLSON — Students showed up at Polson school cafeterias for lunch on Monday, Oct. 17 and noticed something on their trays that hadn’t been there before: lentil burgers.

It was a taste-test for area schools, and while the burgers were both a hit and miss with the pupils, the day was still a striking example of a new movement in Western Montana.

On Monday, Oct. 24, three Lake County schools will host the first Montana-Made Meal Day, designed to promote healthier eating habits and a better education for students, while simultaneously stimulating Montana’s environment and economy. The event was inspired by a meeting that Lindsay Howard, AmeriCorps VISTA with the Lake County Community Development Corporation, had with food service directors in the area.

Ronan and Polson schools will have tacos with Montana beef, tomatoes roasted by the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center and lentils, apples and carrots supplied by local farmers, while St. Ignatius students will have Montana meatloaf with local beef, as well as root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips processed by the MMFEC and supplied by the Western Montana Growers Cooperative.

Montana-Made Meal Day carries with it many benefits, some more obvious than others. Healthier eating habits inevitably lead to healthier bodies, but there’s more to it than just that, said Howard.

“That’s the biggest benefit, that eating healthy, nutritious foods isn’t just about having strong bodies,” Howard said. “It enables higher classroom performance when kids eat wholesome meals, rather than having that sugar rush and crash. They perform better in the classroom.”

Schools buying food locally also does wonders for the community. Economically, money is retained in the area. Environmentally, pollution is dramatically reduced. The “carbon footprint” left via transportation is significantly lowered when food comes from right down the road as opposed to several states away.

The Montana-Made Meal Day is just one part, albeit an important one, in a continually-growing process, according to Howard. The day was inspired because October is Farm-to-School Month, and Howard is making strides to implement farm-to-school not just in one month, but throughout the year. One of the more prominent people by her side for the cause is Polson School District Superintendent David Whitesell.

“Whitesell is incredibly supportive of the work I’ve been doing in terms of bringing in fresh, local ingredients even outside the month of October,” Howard said. “He’s been a big champion of that.”

Howard has also been meeting with parents, teachers and faculty, as well as students about the formation of a farm-to-school program, which would include the building of a school garden and greenhouse.

“That will create an outdoor education center,” Howard said.

The progress Howard has made leaves Lake County with an exceptionally bright future for everyone involved in the transition to a permanent farm-to-school program.

“Hopefully it will engage not just students and faculty, but the whole community,” Howard said. “My dream would be that students take the new information they hear in the cafeteria and classrooms and take it home.

Healthy bodies and healthy minds are at the forefront of this new movement, giving students the ability to feel good physically and mentally, and with all the advancements Howard, Whitesell and the rest of the community are making, Western Montana should feel good as well.

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