Foley school sees ‘fruits’ of its labor with new grant

Categories: Around the Diocese

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Sixth-grader Abby Bryce serves watermelon to fourth-grader Elizabeth Lorenz at St. John’s Area School in Foley Oct. 6. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

Second-grader Henry Genereau loves to eat fresh kohlrabi. His family grows it in their own garden, along with beets, corn, potatoes and other produce.

Now he is able to enjoy more fresh fruits and vegetables at school, too, thanks to a grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture with matching funds from the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

Genereau attends St. John’s Area School in Foley, a Catholic school currently serving 99 students in grades K-6. With the funds the school received — just over $20,000 — they added a new walk-in freezer and purchased kitchen equipment to help prepare the abundance of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables they are now able to purchase from Novak’s Grown-Right Vegetables located just 10 miles from the school, near Gilman.

Last year, Joan Paggen of Novak’s approached SJAS Principal Christine Friederichs about the Farm to School Program. Friederichs initially applied for the grant in hopes of replacing some broken tables.

“We pursued the grant because of broken tables in our cafeteria,” Friederichs said. “We do not have the finances to purchase these large items [about $3,000 each]. From there, it mushroomed into building a freezer.”

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Second-grader Jasmine Kammet eats lunch with classmates at St. John’s Area School in Foley Oct. 6. A Farm to School grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture allows the school to serve fresh produce three times a week. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

The school was notified last December, right before Christmas break, that it would be awarded the grant. Plans began immediately for the new storage facility and they broke ground in May.

Denise Stawarski, the school’s head cook, can’t believe the difference it has made.

“It is just such a blessing that we received this grant,” she said. “You can’t even believe the impact of it. We are a Catholic school so we have always been able to make do with what we have but this is just such a blessing.”

A community effort

Suzy Molitor and Laura Bursch, parents of SJAS students, helped write the grant, Stawarski provided the data, and Aaron and Eric Novak, who have relatives that attend the school, donated their construction talent to make this project happen.

“It was our whole faith community that all came together to do this for the kids,” Stawarski said. “These kids are like our family. Everybody looks out for each other.”

On Oct. 5, representatives from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield visited the school to see the fruits of their labor — the freezer and kitchen equipment — as well as to sample a tasty and healthy lunch that included fresh watermelon, kohlrabi, potatoes and grape tomatoes from Novak’s farm.

Ashley Bress from the Department of Agriculture administered the grant.

“We allocate about $500,000 each year for the Farm to School program because we really do see the value in increasing the nutrition of the students while at the same time creating a new market for farmers who are investing in local communities. We are also impacting the local communities where the farmers serve,” she said.

“We have seen so often that schools have moved away from cooking ‘from-scratch.’ We see a lot of ‘heat-and-eat’ meals. Some schools are just lacking the necessary infrastructure needed to use their local farmers as a resource. This grant provides things like knives, cutting boards, food processors and freezers — things that schools need to be able to serve more local foods.”

Bress also said that storage is often a problem. “A lot of times, schools don’t have the storage capacity, they need somewhere to store it,” she said. “For example, Denise [the head cook] will now be able to buy corn from Novak’s right now and be able to use it later in the year.”

Additionally, the school can now serve local produce three days a week as opposed to once a week. It also helps them eliminate spoilage issues.

Friederichs said that not only is this a great way to work together with local farmers in providing healthy options for their students, but it is also part of their responsibility as a Catholic community.

“I think in any small school, and especially in our Catholic schools, building community, sharing resources, giving of our time, talent and treasure is leading by example and evangelizing by our actions,” she said.

As for young Genereau, he’s just happy that he gets to enjoy his favorite fruits and vegetables more often. “I think they are going to keep a lot of good stuff in the new freezer. Corn, green beans and,” he hopes, “maybe even ice cream.”

Proposals for the 2016 Farm to School Grant Program are due Nov. 4. Learn more at www.mda.state.mn.us/grants/grants/mnfarmtoschool.aspx.