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Incentives Help Schools Eat Locally

A perfect storm of opportunities has come together to support Hart County Public Schools as they promote good nutrition among students and staff. Located in rural, central Kentucky, the district is emerging as a leader in the region for other schools looking to create healthier school environments.

Helping to create the vision and drive change is Food Service Director Chris Russell. When approached to join the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, Russell saw how having assistance facilitating wellness efforts at the school level would also support district policies and upcoming changes in school meals.

At the start of the 2012 school year, Hart County was prepared to increase offerings of fresh fruits and vegetables to align with the updated USDA guidelines as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Specifically, Russell negotiated agreements with local farmers and Hart County is among the first districts in the state to capitalize on the Kentucky ProudTM Rewards Program, which offers financial incentives for restaurants and school districts that purchase local produce. As a result, Hart County students are now enjoying local apples and several varieties of lettuce including butter crunch and romaine.

Perhaps the biggest hit with students is the 1500 pounds of blueberries purchased from the Kentucky Blueberry Association. The blueberries are being served in yogurt parfaits with strawberries. Many students had never tried blueberries or yogurt and were initially hesitant to choose the parfaits over less healthy breakfast pastry options. However, for students and staff it was love at first bite!

Anticipating the need to educate teachers about efforts to increase fruit and vegetable offerings, Russell arranged for professional development for all staff at the beginning of the year. He worked with a representative from Barren River Health Department to provide a training on the new USDA guidelines, MyPlate, and shared information about the Healthy Schools Program. Russell notes, “We were very proactive in educating the staff on the changes in school meals and, as a result, we have had no complaints.”

With the help of the Healthy Schools Program Manager for Western Kentucky, Jacy Wooley, every school in Hart County is working on forming a school wellness council, completing an online inventory, and creating an action plan. Local health department representatives have attended meetings and will be actively supporting the work of the councils. Having all this support come together has been the catalyst for starting conversations at all levels about the importance of creating an even healthier environment for better learning.