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Locally-grown produce part of WDC schools' lunch program

As hungry high school students line up for lunch, the tangy aroma of sweet peppers drifts from the Wadena-Deer Creek (WDC) High School kitchen. One of the choices on the menu -- chicken fajitas with fresh, sautéed peppers.

Outside in the High School Commons where students eat and congregate, WDC Food Services Director Sandie Rentz and University of Minnesota Extension Nutrition Education Coordinator Donna Anderson offer students a "taste" of fresh sliced peppers grown at a farm near Henning. Behind Rentz and Anderson is a display touting the nutritional benefits of peppers.

WDC senior Chad Nelson tries a slice of orange pepper and likes what he tastes. "I was surprised at how sweet it is," Nelson said between bites.

Diane and Chuck Webb of Henning brought in the fresh orange, green and red peppers as part of a new program called "Farm to School" being introduced to students at Wadena-Deer Creek schools this year. Last month, Gregg and Joan Goeden, who live on a farm west of Wadena, trucked in sweet corn for WDC Elementary students to enjoy as part of their lunch menu. Students also participated in shucking the sweet corn. The Webb and Goeden families both have children who attend WDC schools.

"We were thrilled to be asked to be a part of the Farm to School program," said Diane Webb, who with her family, operate the direct-market business, "Garden Gourmet."

Rentz says the new Farm to School program has a number of benefits for both the students and area producers. "I think this program is very important because we live in an agricultural community and there needs to be a better connection between the school and the producers," Rentz said.

Rentz had heard about the idea from a mailing she'd received from the Minnesota School Nutrition program. She partnered with Anderson at the Extension Office and the seed was planted to start Farm to School this fall.

Connecting the schools and area farms is one of the Farm to School program's objectives, as well as serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition and providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities.

According the National Farm to School Network Web site, the program sprouted from the desire to support community-based food systems, strengthen family farms and improve student health.

Anderson added the Farm to School program will help children understand where their food comes from and how their food choices impact their bodies, the environment and their communities.

"My hope is to inform and educate that food does not just appear in the grocery store. With today's busy families, we run to the store to pick up food and don't give a thought to how it got there. Some families have limited space or no time to garden," Anderson said.

The University of Minnesota Extension and Farm to School program have created an online tool kit with ideas for food service staff, teachers and parents. That address is

As an extension service educator, Anderson said starting out young with good eating habits can lead to a lifetime of healthy eating.

"Studies show that if students get to taste new foods, sometimes it takes up to 15 times trying them, they may like them," Anderson said. "They need to be exposed to different foods to find out they might just like it."

Visit Wadena-Deer Creek Public Schools' Web site for more information and photos of the school's Farm to School program.