American kids are overweight. Nutritionists say one major reason is that kids are eating too much junk food, and not enough fresh produce. A government pilot program is trying to get kids to eat more locally-grown fruits and vegetables in school by giving them out for free. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams visited a school where the experiment is underway:
American kids are overweight. Nutritionists say one major reason
is that kids are eating too much junk food, and not enough fresh
produce. A government pilot program is trying to get kids
to eat more locally-grown fruits and vegetables in school by giving them out
for free. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams
visited a school where the experiment is underway:
It’s 9 am and the halls are quiet at Everett High School, in Lansing,
Michigan. Parent volunteers are setting out bowls of bright
pink grapefruit segments on stands in the hallway.
They’re working quickly, getting ready for 1500 hungry teenagers.
(bell rings, noisy chatter swells, sneakers squeaking)
Kids slow down when they pass the fruit stand. A few kids take a bowl…
but not that many.
“Ain’t nobody want no grapefruit?”
“They’re hesitant to try it because it’s new, they’ve never tasted grapefruit
(final bell ringing under)
Lynn Beard is energetic. When she’s not handing out
fruit, she’s teaching nutrition here at the school.
As much as she talks to kids about their choices, even she can’t predict
what they’ll eat.
The hall empties. Lynn Beard sees a few stragglers.
“Sir, have you ever had grapefruit, honey, before at home? Yes,
She pulls Brandon Washington over to the fruit stand…
“He was going to try it, and he put it back down because someone said it
was sour.” B.W. :”I was going to try it.”
“Honest reaction? Tastes like it needs some sugar in it.”
Even though he’s not a grapefruit fan, Washington says he likes having
the fruit and veggies here.
“Now that they got them at school, I eat it more. And that’s good,
too, because nutrition values, good for your soul, you live longer, right?”
Washington says, before he could get free fruit and vegetables during the day,
he felt hungry between meals. Many of his classmates skipped breakfast.
Lynn Beard worries about her students’ eating habits.
“English, math, social studies, aren’t changing the obesity rate. Early
onset osteoporosis, we’re seeing a huge jump in. Type two diabetes in children.
What are we doing to educate our kids on how to change? Isn’t that an effective
place to use taxpayers’ dollars?”
That’s one of the questions behind the Fruit and Vegetable Pilot.
It’s a year-long experiment, funded by 6 million dollars from the 2002 Farm
107 schools in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and New Mexico were
chosen. It’s a mix of schools: large and small, rural and urban.
The hope is that kids will learn to like fruits and veggies… and be
cultivated into new consumers.
Agriculture promoters hope one of the spin-offs will be a new market for
local farmers. With few exceptions, the pilot program requires that
schools buy only American produce, and local produce if
they can. Fourteen of the pilot schools buy directly from farmers.
Everett High School gave kids some locally grown produce. But Lynn Beard
says the kids still don’t know much about the food that grows where they live.
“Kids don’t understand seasonal fruits, they were so upset we weren’t
getting watermelon in January. ”
And Beard says just getting local produce at all was difficult.
Schools such as Everett High School buy from national food service
companies. The companies often sell these Michigan schools
Marion Kalb directs the National Farm to School Program. It’s
part of a non-profit group that works to connect farms
and schools. Kalb says food service companies don’t make a
special effort to buy from local farms.
But she thinks schools can influence their suppliers.
“If there’s instruction on the school side to say, you know we’d like
to know seasonally what’s available locally, then that gives incentive
to the distributor to try and make buying from regional or local farmers a
And it makes sense to most people to sell apples nearby rather than shipping
them miles away.
(birds twittering in open air market, people talking about flowers)
In a farmer’s market full of flowers, Dwight Carpenter is one
of the few farmers selling produce this early in the year. That’s because
he grows vegetables in a greenhouse.
He sells at two farmer’s markets and a store on his land. He says it’s enough to survive,
but he’d like to expand to places such as local schools.
“It’s kind of a difficult way to make a living, and if better markets were
established, such as schools and hospitals, and that kind of thing,
grocery stores, and if that were turned around, that would help the farmer too,
to be able to hang onto whatever he’s got, rather than to have to sell it off to subdivisions
(sound up: cafeteria, “Let me know how you like the spicy chicken sandwich.
It’s new.” cash register beeping)
Although the kids at Everett High School are getting used to eating more
produce from the free program, you won’t find many fruits and vegetables
for sale at the cafeteria. That’s because the cafeteria competes with nearby fast food
You also won’t find many nutritious snacks in the vending machines. The school needs
the revenue it gets from the candy bars and chips.
Kids are still lining up at the soda machine today. But some students
think the fruit and veggie program is slowly changing their eating
habits. Wynton Harris is a sophomore.
“Last year everyone was eating junk and this year they cut down a lot. I
can tell, because I’m seeing less people at the machines, and more
people taking fruit. And I said, wow.”
And Everett High School’s nutrition teacher, Lynn Beard, has a vision: vending
machines that offer fresh produce instead of potato chips.
“If there’s nothing free, I think we’d have a number of kids who, instead of buying
a dollar pop, would buy a dollar pear.”
The free fruit and vegetable program ends with the school year. But some 70 schools
in the U-S buy from their local farmers even without special federal funding.
Even so, Lynn Beard doubts her school could afford to keep this program going
without federal money.
“I think next year I’m not going to want to be around here without this
grant, cause there’s going to be so many complaints. Where’s our fruit? Why
can’t we get some fruit? I’m dreading next year. I’m just going to have to keep a smile on
my face and say, “Talk to your government.”
But government support for the program is uncertain.
Congress will debate the future of the fruit and vegetable program. And whether
government should be marketing fruits and vegetables in the schools… and further
subsiding the farmers who grow them.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Rebecca Williams.