A Model for Change

Photos courtesy of Classroom in Bloom

by Lexi Koch

Classroom in Bloom is a one-half acre garden on the shared campus of Liberty Bell Jr/Sr High School andMethow Valley Elementary School in Winthrop. The program is a separatenon-profit that has earned the trust and respect of the school district and community. District administrators and teachers clearly see the benefits of this program on their campus. As the largest institution in our region serving food on a daily basis, our school has welcomed the opportunity to stimulate the local economy while providing colorful, fresh nutrition for students and staff.

For seven growing seasons, the head chef of our school has gracefully integrated all of the fresh offerings from the garden. Every year 300 students contribute their work to an abundant harvest. In the garden, students get to see, taste, and touch a large variety of produce.

In 2009, students helped plant,tend and harvest 1632 pounds of food for use in their own school lunches. Classroom in Bloom then spearheaded a committee to encourage the use of even more fresh, local food in the cafeteria, thus supporting the local economy of the farmers along with the health of the students. This groundwork encouraged parents and school staff to take the next steps.

The school district applied for and received a gant to purchase infrastructure for a daily salad bar option in each school. The grant also includes money to educate students as to why they might want to eat fresh foods from a salad bar. An anonymous donation allowed purchase of local beef, potatoes, grains, apples and pears. In addition, the superintendent has allotted money to be used for the urchase of crops from the valley’s farmers.

Though this change is exciting on many levels, it does not come withouthallenges. Th e school district is strapped for money. Local, organic food is more expensive, though may cost less in the long run. The hard-working crew in the under-staffed cafeteria must be creative with the budget they are given to make fresh food options each day.

Valuing the lunch room as a place for learning nutrition, peaceful digestion and connecting the school more to our local economy, is a great success for our community at large. The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow. We want to grow students who have learned healthy habits at a young age, who know what is in season, value the natural cycles of the place they live, and eat accordingly. By exposing students to fresh, local food, they learn it is magical, delicious and nutritious. Not only that, but in this rural valley, opportunities for commercial farmers are quite sparse. Buying local helps keep dollars circulating in our own community and keeps people employed. Our school is proud to be a model for change, building school pride that we can happily share with our rural neighbors. The success of this project has only just begun!

Lexi Koch is Executive Director, Classroom in Bloom www.classroominbloom.org.