Eaton Rapids students to grow food for lunch line

Students at Eaton Rapids High School will be growing fresh and highly nutritious herbs, greens and tomatoes for their own school meal program.

For the past two years, Michigan State University Extension and the Eaton Good Food Council have been working with Eaton Rapids Food Service Director Linda Vainner and high school teachers Jennifer Grivens and Julie Brantley. The culmination of the work has resulted in a budding high school initiative that will provide another life-long skill to high school students, while fresh, highly nutritious produce is offered to the student body during school meals.

Over summer break, funding was secured to purchase four aeroponic tower gardens and assemble two raised-bed gardens at the Eaton Rapids High School. These gardens will be used in the school’s Farm to Table initiative to grow a variety of fresh herbs, greens, and tomatoes that will be sold to food service director Vainner for inclusion in school meals. One of the larger single donations was generously provided by the Eaton Farm Bureau Co-op.

Vainner feels this will be a great way to get the students more engaged in their food experience and is excited about this opportunity and partnership. She is planning to use the herbs to season sauces and incorporate the fresh greens and vegetables into their salad bar.

 “Students in the botany and global science classes will be growing food for the school and learning essential science skills at the same time,” states Grivens. “They will test the water and the soil for pH and essential nutrients, keep long term data on these factors and adjust the media as warranted with the proper nutrients. Monitoring and adjusting the water chemistry will improve plant growth and flavor.”

Initially the plans are to grow the produce for school meals and in time potentially sell to school staff and the Eaton Rapids Medical Center farmers market. With the produce being grown on site during the school year, the food will be harvested and used at the height of its nutritional potential and flavor.

This project was modeled after a similar initiative that was started in November 2012 at Olivet High School. There, Olivet Agriscience and FFA member Dalton Humphrey has grown a variety of herbs and greens and then sold them to food service director Karla Love for their school meals. Humphrey started the project because of his interest in food systems, growing food for his peers and his 4-H grant award. Love is very engaged in offering seasonally fresh produce in the cafeteria and strives to make several school food purchases from farms around Olivet.

These teachers and food service directors have been actively engaged in the Eaton Good Food Council and on the Eaton Rapids Building Health Communities Coalition. Both groups seek to improve access to nutritious foods for Eaton County and Eaton Rapids families respectively.

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