Statewide program aims to promote local farms; Pupils help harvest, cook, serve school lunches

This story was published on Sept. 27, 2007 on Page B2 in edition 2 of the Bangor Daily News

MOUNT DESERT – As part of a statewide program aimed at promoting Maine growers and teaching children about a healthy diet, local pupils got to prepare their own lunch Wednesday and to serve it to farmers who grew the food.

For several days, pupils from schools on Mount Desert Island have been showing up at Beech Hill Farm, a local organic farm owned by College of the Atlantic, to learn about what the farm produces and to help harvest the food.

The local program is part of Maine Harvest Day for School Lunch, which was proclaimed for Wednesday by Gov. John Baldacci. Similar locally grown school lunches also were planned for Wednesday in other Maine communities, including Brooklin and York.

“We want to support local Maine farmers and producers, and we want to provide an educational opportunity for students to discover Maine products,” Baldacci said in a prepared statement.

On Wednesday, fourth and fifth graders at Mount Desert Elementary School helped cook lunch from food they had harvested at Beech Hill Farm. They even helped serve it to other students at the school and to three farm staff members who came by to enjoy the meal.

Diane Lokocz, co-manager of the farm, said Beech Hill Farm regularly supplies discounted food to elementary schools in Mount Desert and Bar Harbor and to MDI High School. Pupils from many schools throughout the area, however, have visited the farm this week to learn more about locally grown food, she said.

“It’s our goal that they understand the importance of having a farm in their community and how it helps support the health of the community as a whole,” Lokocz said, seated at a table in the school cafeteria.

Susan Tripp, a fourth-grade teacher at the school, said the experience has helped reinforce science and math lessons the children have had in school. And it’s been fun, too.

“They say it’s better than homework,” she said about her students. “They’re feeling really good about themselves.”

Third-grader Elroy Walls introduced himself to a stranger in the school cafeteria Wednesday as his classmates scarfed down plates of vegetables, salad and blueberry cobbler at tables around him. He said he enjoyed eating the locally grown food.

“[It was] delicious,” he said. “And it helps you grow strong bones.”

Fourth-grader Megan Frost said going to the farm to harvest food on Tuesday gave her the opportunity to try something new. She said she ate dirty carrots for the first time.

“They taste much sweeter,” she said about the fresh organic produce.

Fellow fourth-grader Mary Ellen Sharp said she enjoyed learning about local food, harvesting it, and helping to cook it, too.

“When I grow up, I want to work at Beech Hill Farm,” she said.