By Amy Fovargue
Federal Hocking School District in Athens County is a top school district in the state for having the highest percent of their food budget spent on local food, according to the recently released USDA Farm to School Census.
How does a low-income Appalachian school become ranked as a top district in our state for serving local food? It takes a lot of passionate people supporting their food system.
Here is their story.
“We need to brag about what we are doing! We keep striving forward to make sure our kids get the best food possible. They (students) are our customers and we want to make them happy!” said Mike Kubisek of COMCorps/AmeriCorps.
Kubisek volunteers with COM (College of Medicine) Corps an AmeriCorps program, based in the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine Community Health Program. The COMCorps’ mission is to increase access to:
- evidence-based nutrition education
- healthy fresh food
- physical activity
- preventative and primary health care services
There are 23 COMCorps members in Athens County serving a 10.5 or 12 month term with 1700 hours. COMCorps service members are active in schools and agencies as they deliver health-related programs. Many of the COMCorps participants go on to pursue careers in medicine and health care, although Mike is a retired teacher from Florida.
Mike and his cohorts teach healthy living classes, lead a cooking club, and provide healthy snacks at schools, among other activities. Federal Hocking provides fruit for free throughout the school day, and goes through five cases of fresh fruit a week. Anytime of the day that the students want fruit, it is available. The athletes can save a piece in their lockers for their practice or games later in the day.
In Athens County there is a second grade program called Live Healthy Kids which is a part of Live Healthy Appalachia, a wellness outreach nonprofit. The curriculum has a 22-week course that has reached 1,500 students. Not only does the program teach basic cooking and nutrition, it makes connections with agriculture, cultural studies, reading, art and physical activity. Mike explained that recently they had been doing taste tests in the classroom to get kids used to eating eggplant. There is also a follow up program for third graders and adult classes.
Pam Crabtree, the food service director and head cook at Federal Hocking, feeds about 400 students and staff a day, she feels that the greatest success they have achieved with their Farm to School effort is providing increased access to a variety of foods. “These students have a lot of healthy choices. Our salad bar has mixed greens and more than 15 items every day. The most popular item is pickled beets!” she said.
“We are working every day to improve the offerings. We plan to install white boards in the cafeteria with the daily nutrition info of our options so they can make wiser choices,” she explained.
The school has also been recognized by the Ohio Department of Education for having one of the highest numbers of students eating school breakfast which is 83%. “We serve homemade biscuits and gravy every Friday morning. It’s very popular with the kids,” Crabtree said. “It’s great to see their smiles and to keep them happy and healthy,” she continued. “The students love the local foods. We keep pushing for more and more. They like to hear that the food is from their neighbors. We are currently searching for some local honey so we could make our own granola bars,” Pam said.
Nothing goes to waste from the cafeteria as all of the food waste is then composted and used in the school garden led by Keith Macartney, an 8th grade science teacher. This school garden is the largest in the county. He has been teaching at Federal Hocking Middle school for the past 12 years. Macartney is a strong proponent of local food. He developed a school garden program that is tied to the math and science curriculum as a way to teach using hands-on lessons. Over the last four years the garden project has been taught to hundreds of students and has provided food to local food pantries and the school cafeteria. Recent additions to the garden include raspberry canes and an orchard.
Where does the local food come from?
It comes from local farmers (mostly Amish) who consign their produce at an auction in nearby Morgan County. The Chesterhill Produce Auction which has a network of 125 farmers growing produce is operated by Rural Action, a community development organization. An order-buyer employed by Rural Action will purchase food for the local schools; besides Federal Hocking, Alexander Local and Athens City also participate. The order-buyer coordinates delivery to Hocking College culinary department. Depending on the time of year, the fresh product is prepared by culinary students or by volunteers (either COMCorps members or parents) which have been trained in food service. They will process produce such as watermelon, corn and green beans among other produce at the peak of harvest. This locally grown product then goes to schools and is served to the local students.
Rural Action is a key player in getting the produce to the schools as they provide aggregation, processing, storage and delivery.
As you can see, many people are dedicated to locally feeding and educating the school children in Athens County.
Mike Kubisek, COMCorps Volunteer
Federal Hocking School District
Pam Crabtree, Food Service Director
Federal Hocking School District