Schools get grants for fresh produce program

What is encouraging 63,000 Wisconsin students to try fruits and vegetables like broccoli, starfruit and radishes? It’s the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which reimburses eligible schools for fresh produce offered in classrooms, allowing students to taste both familiar and unfamiliar fruits and veggies.

Receiving grants locally are Menominee Tribal School for $10,500 and Tigerton Elementary School for $6,600.

The grant program, which is supporting 184 Wisconsin schools this year, exposes students to fresh produce they might not otherwise have access to and gives them a nourishing snack. Survey comments from last year emphasized the importance of both aspects of the program: “It is so important for our children to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables because they can be so expensive for families, and this program also helps introduce new and different produce to our children.”

While some foods like jicama, radishes and papaya might not become favorites, survey comments showed the unfamiliar pomegranates and persimmons were hits, topping the list of favorite foods in many schools.

The program’s impact reaches further than snack time. Exposure to new, healthy flavors prompts students to ask their parents to buy produce they’ve tried in school, as well as increases student interest in eating fruits and vegetables at meals. Some schools also have implemented school gardens or “garden bars” at lunchtime.

“We want our schools to be able to support the entire student, and part of that goal includes nourishment,” said Gov. Tony Evers. “The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program gives our students tasting experiences that will help instill healthy eating habits, as well as increasing access to the foods themselves.”

The program that was implemented in Wisconsin in 2008 continues to grow in popularity, as the review panel is evaluating 236 applications for this academic year. About $3.2 million in grants is available to school districts that meet eligibility guidelines, “which ensures that the program benefits low-income children that generally have fewer opportunities to consume fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.”