September 13, 2010

Grant puts produce on table for students

A Pittsfield school takes part in a program that exposes kids to fresh foods they might never see.

By SCOTT MONROE Morning Sentinel

PITTSFIELD - It's just after 8 a.m. at Warsaw Middle School as teacher Richard Woodbury shuffles around the classroom, holding out a tray filled with cups of red cherry tomatoes.

click image to enlarge

Teacher Richard Woodbury hands out locally grown cherry tomatoes to students Ryleigh Lord, Ashley Ludden and Miranda Kuespert at Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield last week. Warsaw has received a $17,000 grant to provide students with fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms.

David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

Half of the 14 students take a cup, each with about 10 cherry tomatoes.

It's a mixed reaction to the bite-sized fruit.

"I like the inside, the juices of it," said Nathan Engelhardt, 12.

Ryleigh Lord, also 12, devours four cups. "They're really yummy," she said.

"The juice is too sweet," observed Alex Bertrand, 12, after munching on four tomatoes. "I love them, actually, but I don't like too many of them."

That was Wednesday, one of two days each week when a new program exposes students to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The $17,096 grant to Warsaw is part of the $1.3 million that Maine received from the federal government. Other local schools have started programs as well.

Funding for the fresh food is especially important at Warsaw, where more than half of the 330 students qualify for free and reduced-price meals based on their family income, said Sandy Wright, food service director for School Administrative District 53, which includes Burnham, Detroit and Pittsfield.

Students experience the morning program on alternate days before regular classes start.

Wright said she plans to take advantage of the program by offering fresh foods she could not normally afford for regular school meals. She has budgeted about $1,700 a month for food expenses.

Items on her list include star fruit, pineapple, asparagus, raspberries and pomegranates, and she's taking suggestions from students and teachers.

"The purpose of this is to expose kids to fruits and vegetables they might never see," Wright said. "I can't serve a fresh strawberry at lunch because they're so expensive. So this is such an opportunity."

Warsaw teachers are enthusiastically getting involved by requesting fruits and vegetables related to their lessons, Wright said. For instance, pomegranates were requested by a teacher who is presenting a lesson on Turkey, where the fruit is native.

Wright also offers students nutritional information on each fruit and vegetable.

The fruit and vegetable program is coupled with exercise on other mornings, meant to reinforce healthy living habits.

In the first full week of school, grapes, a popular selection, were offered, and about every child tried those, Wright said.

But not as many were adventurous last week when red, yellow and chocolate cherry tomatoes were on the menu. The tomatoes came from the Cota farm in Burnham, Wright said, and fresh apples will soon be coming from Littlefield's apple orchard, also in Burnham.

The morning of the program, kitchen manager Lori Ring arrived around 5:30 a.m. to prepare, which means washing or cutting the fruit or vegetable.

"The kids seem to really like it," Ring said.

Referring also to the school's exercise program two days per week, Woodbury said, "So often it's easy to go home and have four cookies or a Pop-Tart. We're trying to teach you healthy habits."


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