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Commissioner Scott Soares

Commissioner Scott Soares

Commissioner, Department of Agriculture Resources (DAR)

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March may be National Nutrition Month, but 300 children in 12 Worcester kindergarten classrooms were already thinking about healthy local food since the start of the school year. The Kindergarten Initiative, in partnership with the Massachusetts Farm to School Project, is being piloted in four Worcester schools during the 2010-2011 academic year.

Building on Worcester’s long-standing commitment to serving local foods in school cafeterias, the program brings the concept of eating healthy into the classroom. Students study nutrition concepts, enjoy snacks made from local ingredients, go on farm tours, and participate in local food specialty events. The program aims to teach children to try new foods, learn about local agriculture, and experiment with new tastes, in hopes that they will continue to do so for years to come.

As part of an event featuring local cheeses from Westfield Farm in Hubbardston and Smith’s Country Cheese in Winchendon, the children sampled five cheeses including a goat cheese made with chocolate! This event helped children learn about where food comes from by connecting the dots between the cows they had seen, milk they drink, and cheese they love.

Another lesson featured local yogurt flavored with local maple syrup from Sidehill Farm in Ashfield. Students took several cartons home to share with their families. Families are provided with local food and produce packages throughout the year so that they can experience new foods together around the dinner table. Parents, grandparents, and siblings are invited to attend demonstrations given by local chefs and specialty food producers. Chef demonstrations focus on nutrient dense meals that can be prepared quickly, and cost effectively at home. By involving family members, students are more likely to enjoy healthy, local foods at home.

One classroom recently read the book, “City Mouse Country Mouse,” before taking a farm tour. When they arrived at Breezy Gardens Farm in Leicester, they climbed off of the bus and into a grassy pasture and saw first-hand where a country mouse might live! One child even asked a farmer, identified in the lunchroom as the man who grew his apple, for an autograph. It’s great to see our local farmers becoming heroes to a new generation of locavores in the making!

More information about the Kindergarten Initiative can be found by contacting the Massachusetts Farm to School Office at mafarmtoschool@gmail.com.

Be sure to visit The Great Outdoors blog for information about healthy outdoor activities like fishing, maple sugaring or canoeing going on this spring across Massachusetts.

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