Columbia Public Schools and the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture have teamed to create a new farm-to-school coordinator position to help encourage third- to fifth-grade students to eat more fruits and vegetables.
The goals of the farm-to-school coordinator are to increase fruits and vegetables on a studentâ€™s plate, improve behavior and academics and promote healthy lifestyle choices, said Laina Fullum, the school districtâ€™s director of nutrition services.
Fullum said a person had been selected for the position but that an employment agreement had not been finalized and that an announcement likely wouldnâ€™t be made until July.
Students will have the opportunity to grow fruits and vegetables in school gardens with the help of the coordinator. Fullum said that if students are involved in growing the fruits and vegetables they see at lunch, they are more likely to choose them and make healthier choices as they get older.
â€œThey are more invested in fruits and vegetables when they have that hands-on experience,â€ she said.
The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture will provide about $42,000 for the farm-to-school coordinator position, which also receives funding from Boone County Childrenâ€™s Services. This funding can be renewed for up to two years.
The school district will pitch in about $32,000, said Billy Polansky, the centerâ€™s executive director. The person will work with teachers and the center to organize field trips to the urban farm, write curriculum and plan interactive activities for students.
Fullum also said getting to work in the gardens will help them make connections between what is happening in the garden and what they are learning in class. When students can move around and learn in the school garden, it will help them be calmer and focused in the classroom.
Students who do not eat enough fruits, vegetables and dairy products tend to have lower grades, according to research by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The farm-to-school coordinator will allow the center to better serve students.
â€œWe have been inconsistently serving the district,â€ said Polansky. This person will help the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture serve the district as a whole.â€
The farm-to-school coordinator will work with approximately 1,000 students at Alpha Hart, Elliot Battle, Benton STEM, Blue Ridge, Derby Ridge, New Haven, West Boulevard and Parkade elementary schools. The schools were chosen to be the first participants in the program because more than half of students at these schools participate in the free and reduced lunch program.
Fullum said students from low-income households are less likely to be exposed to fruits and vegetables. She said she believed the program will help students develop an appreciation for them.
Some of the program funding came from Boone County Childrenâ€™s Services, which is part of Boone County Community Services. Kelly Wallis, community servicesâ€™ director, said the county decided to help fund the program because it provides hands-on experience.
â€œWhat made their proposal strong,â€ Wallis said, â€œis the hands-on experiences for the children with gardening and getting to experience growing to produce, and also tasting it â€” getting to see the fruits of their labor and having different opportunities to eat what they have grown.â€
Also, Heart of Missouri United Way is providing a one-time grant of about $18,000 to build six new school gardens and roughly $14,000 that can be renewed for up to three years, said Rachel Delcau, the agencyâ€™s director of community impact.
â€œWe had a lot of advisory council members believe in the ability of Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture to make an educational impact in our community,â€ she said.
Fullum said that their long-term goal is to expand this program to all schools in the district.
â€œWe hope the stats from the eight schools are encouraging enough for us to keep moving forward in that particular direction,â€ she said.