Coalition leads forum on role of food in schools, education

The Poughkeepsie Plenty Food Coalition facilitated a learning forum on school food on Nov. 7 at the Mid Hudson Heritage Center in Poughkeepsie.

The forum’s goal was to consider how school food can be more effective in aiding on the health and learning of students. The panel included Janet Poppendieck, a nationally known sociologist and author of “Free for All: Fixing School Food in America”; Al Muhlnickel, director of food service for the Poughkeepsie City School District; and Sarah Brannen, coordinator of the City of Poughkeepsie School District’s Farm to School Project.

More than 40 people attended the forum, including residents, students, parents, district staff, state Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, a representative of state Sen. Terry Gipson and representatives from the NAACP.

Poppendieck explained the history of the National School Lunch Program, the second-largest nutrition assistance program in the United States. Muhlnickel described the Poughkeepsie City School District’s program, which served more than 900,000 meals to students in 2012-13, including breakfasts, lunches, snacks and summer meals.

Brannen cited the success of the Farm to School program, which aims to increase the proportion of local produce served in the Poughkeepsie schools and has documented success with students who after a few hours of hands-on education were much more likely to finish kale in the cafeteria compared to their peers.

The panelists suggested strategies to help support students’ health and learning, including a shift in agricultural subsidies away from crops used to produce unhealthy processed food and toward fruits and vegetables.

Participants discussed what they could do to support change. Ideas included shifting paperwork responsibilities from food service to other departments and allocating a portion of the district budget to support local healthy food in the lunch program.

They also explored how to make lunchtime part of the educational experience and supporting programs that engage students in hands-on learning about food, such as trips to farms, growing and cooking, to training teachers to take advantage of students’ interest in food by incorporating food into the curriculum.

As printed in the Poughkeepsie Journal, November 22, 2013

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