Rutland City Public Schools may have found a way to persuade young students they should eat their veggies: Having the message delivered by older students.
A $15,000 Vermont Farm to School and Childcare Grant from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture will be used to work with students at the Stafford Technical Center to create a marketing campaign about using locally grown food and eating healthy.
Sean Miller, food service director for Rutland schools, said the cafeterias at the schools already prepare and serve fruits and vegetables from local farms.
“We have (Stafford) students who are super-talented in their area of education that we felt we could really utilize to help be the driving force to help us engage the younger students,” he said.
With the grant, which was announced Tuesday, food services will work with students in Stafford’s digital arts, video and communications program and culinary program to create the marketing campaign.
Rob Bliss, assistant superintendent of Rutland City Public Schools, said Miller was the driving force behind the grant. Before applying for the grant, he said meetings took place with Greg Cox, president of the board of the Vermont Farmers Food Center, and Andy Paluch, executive director of Come Alive Outside.
“Sean started talking about what we could do with Stafford Technical Center. Then all of a sudden, he creates this vision for empowering the kids at Stafford Tech to promote and teach younger students about local foods, good nutrition and how you can prepare them to be healthy. We know around here that our students sometimes learn best from older students,” he said.
The $15,000 will be implemented over a two-year period. Miller said he expects to use this year for project leaders to plan their approach and next school year would be when the videos and other promotional materials would actually be produced.
Both Miller and Bliss said the project could allow the older students to get some practical experience in applying what they’re learning in the classroom.
“This is going to be (kindergarten) through (12th grade) so we’re going to touch all the grade levels. The goal is to start with the younger generation. … If you can win those kids, they’re just going to grow up accepting local fruits and vegetables and embracing that lifestyle. Then they’re going to help the next younger generation,” Miller said.
Ali Zipparo, who manages the Vermont Farm to School and Childcare program at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, said the biggest factors in awarding the grants are “buy-in from the community and the team that’s working on the grant.” She said good support and a team approach could be more important to being awarded a grant than a novel idea.
“That’s what we saw with Rutland. Rutland’s got a great food service director. We know the superintendent is supportive and realistic,” she said.
Bliss pointed out that Rutland City schools already had existing partnerships with local farmers and Come Alive Outside in various ways. For instance, once a week, a dish is prepared using local produce that students can try.
“The kids might actually handle something, prepare something, cook something and then taste something that isn’t something you normally get,” he said.
Zipparo said staff at the Agency of Agriculture was confident that Rutland would do well.
“Rutland’s going to be a great success story because it’s the right time and they have a good team to be successful,” she said.
The awards, including the one given to Rutland, were intended to be announced at an event in Montpelier on Wednesday but the event was canceled because of the snow.