As farm to school grows in both popularity and maturity in Wisconsin, schools are looking for ways to develop increasingly comprehensive programs that will thrive for years to come. In order to accomplish this goal, student involvement and community engagement are essential. When students take leadership in farm to school programs, peer education and reaching out to families becomes a priority. Involving youth and families in farm to school leads to the community as a whole feeling pride, ownership and a sense of responsibility for maintaining its farm to school program. Community members recognize the many benefits of farm to school for the youth and the community as a whole.
This is a story about the farm to school experience in one Wisconsin county. In 2009, the Vernon County Farm to School initiative created the “Harvest Challenge,” a menu planning and cooking contest for high school students highlighting the many benefits of including fresh, nutritious and locally grown foods in school lunch programs. The Harvest Challenge team guidelines are that lunch menus must meet all National School Lunch Program regulations, utilize local products, show culinary and aesthetic sophistication, and taste delicious—all at a cost of under $1.00 per meal! This is no easy task, even for those familiar with school kitchens. In the words of a Kickapoo School District Harvest Challenge student team member, “I never knew how much preparation went into making our school’s lunch. I now appreciate the lunch program and our cooks so much more.”