Food for thought

Steadily growing efforts have been made to incorporate fresh, locally sourced food into the cafeterias and menus of schools on Mount Desert. Any initial resistance to dedicating the time and resources needed to make better food offerings available in schools appears to have evaporated.

At Southwest Harbor’s annual town meeting last week, one citizen asked why there was a $4,000 increase in food service line items. Some of that was for salaries, as positions in the kitchen have been adjusted. But the bulk of that amount, Principal Diane Waters explained, was the effort to use more local vegetables, produce and seafood in the cafeteria. In contrast to what the reaction might have been even a few years ago, from taxpayers concerned only with costs, nary an objection was raised.

As we reported last week, students from the Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor are continuing their efforts, teaming for Food Revolution Day with staff from Havana restaurant, to help fund construction of a greenhouse at the school. Pemetic soon will have a greenhouse as well.

In Northeast Harbor, the Growing Gardens, Growing Minds project, using raised bed gardens, has become an essential part of the school’s educational efforts, with lessons integrated into all aspects of the curriculum. Salsbury Farm Hardware in Town Hill and numerous other businesses have helped with donations, as offerings have expanded to include a greenhouse.

Schools in Tremont and Trenton have been using greenhouses for years. Those facilities are integral to the life of the institutions, with lessons ranging from kindergartners planting pumpkins, to middle schoolers growing food for use in the schools cafeterias.

Salad bars have become popular alternatives in all island schools. Mount Desert Island Hospital has been an integral player. Healthy Acadia’s Farm-to-School initiative also has provided a major boost.

These local efforts, however, continue way beyond primary school. At College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, where the kitchen has earned national accolades for organic and wholesome offerings, students have learned every step in the sustainability food chain, from operations at Beech Hill Farm to working on plots in the community garden on campus. New agricultural programs will be coming along in the wake of recent farmland acquisitions along the Crooked Road in Bar Harbor.

School lunch programs have come a long way from the days when managers hustled to get free cans of federal government mystery meat or cinder block-sized chunks of suspiciously yellow surplus cheese. Parents, educators and community members now fully understand the value of proper nourishment. Keeping kids strong, motivated and alert is just as important as curriculum, supplies or methodology when it comes to growing the next generation of strong minds.

Better food means healthier kids, better schools and, ultimately, healthier and more vibrant communities.


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