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(Beloit, WI) Hililary Gavan, Beloit Daily News

School District of Beloit’s Farm to School program is helping to bring in locally-produced fresh fruits and vegetables to its classes and lunchrooms.

Using grant funds, the district was able to hire a nutrition educator and is forming a task force to promote fresh food and nutrition.

“The goal of Farm to School is to implement school gardens, increase local food in school lunches, provide nutrition education in school classrooms in Beloit and strengthen the local economy by supporting Beloit’s local farmers,” said Janelle Marotz, assistant superintendent for business services and Farm to School program coordinator.

Thanks to recently awarded funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, the district was able to hire its third AmeriCorp member who works half time as a nutrition educator to bolster the program.

Merrill Elementary has an active school gardening program that provides hands-on activities to learn about plants and nutrition and Hackett Elementary has raised funds for a garden to be planted in the spring.

“We are working to obtain funds to provide gardening opportunities for Converse, Robinson, Todd and Gaston to offer hands-on activities in addition to our nutrition education and fresh fruit and vegetable offerings,” Marotz said.

Because October was Farm to School Month, the district participated in the Great Apple Crunch on Oct. 22, where students participated in a poster contest and enjoyed fresh apples donated by Wal-Mart and AppleHut. Twelve winning designs have been chosen to form a calendar of Farm to School for 2016 to raise funds for expansion of the program. All winners will receive a free Farm to School calendar.

Marotz explained the district held its first Farm to School task force meeting Thursday. The task force will be charged with helping to raise community awareness and helping to identify potential volunteers for community events. If people are interested in serving on the task force, they can contact Marotz for more information.

The School District of Beloit already has farm to school activities such as lemonade and salsa making activities at Merrill Elementary School. Merrill also has a longstanding garden club. Other after school events in the district include pumpkin smoothie making at Hackett, where there are plans for a garden to be planted this spring.

In addition to its farm to school program, the School District of Beloit has a Fresh Fruit and Vegetables program which provides children in participating elementary schools with a variety of free fresh fruits and vegetables using grant funds provided by the USDA.

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