Vilonia successfully completed its farm-to-school program | News

Third and seventh grade students in the Vilonia School District participated in farm-to-school activities where they learned about food sources, how they are handled, and how these factors play on health and well-being.

The two-week activities were developed by the University of Central Arkansas and sponsored by Healthy Flavors Arkansas through a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture and centered around purple pea peas which were grown by Healthy Flavors in the Lollie Bottoms west of Conway last summer.

UCA’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences developed lesson plans for classroom instruction as well as seven recipes which were provided to the Vilonia Schools Food Services team.

During the final week of events, neighborhood cafeterias served the purple peas where students finally got a taste of what they learned in class over the past week.

“Kids would come to the cafeteria and say, ‘Are those the peas?'” said Sophia Hogan, child nutrition director for the Vilonia district.

Hogan said the students were asking for seconds and she saw several empty plates.

“When I saw the poster [of the peas], I had no idea what they would taste like,” said third-grader Makayla Cole. “Then when I tasted them, I thought ‘whoa.’ They are really, really delicious.

Dan Spatz, the agricultural entrepreneur behind Healthy Flavors Arkansas, visited the district Thursday and spoke with several students, including Cole, about their experience with farm-to-school activities.

“It is so heartwarming to be at Vilonia, to see the children experience the peas and to hear the teachers describe the learning that has taken place,” he said. “Food has become so transactional in our society, but this program shows the ability of food to connect people and spread knowledge about something that is vital in our lives.”

Coach Matthew Cain, a seventh-grade health class teacher at Vilonia, said students were hesitant at first about the program, but it led to some really good discussions about where the food comes from.

“It led to some really interesting things that even I had never thought of,” Cain said. “We have deepened the transportation process. This sparked a big discussion about the different factors that can affect our food supply. Some children had never thought about human interaction with food. They had just gone to the supermarket and there was food.

Several students from families in the Vilonia School District work on farms, which allowed them to participate in the discussion and also talk about their experiences.

“The farm children were able to share their personal experiences of life on a farm with their classmates,” Cain said. “The children have benefited from this program. There is material in there that I will incorporate into my other lessons, whether it is part of this program or not.

At the last Vilonia District Welfare Committee meeting, Dr. Cathy RigginsDeputy Superintendent of Vilonia, said she is proud of the food service team and how they are more involved in educating Vilonia students about the resources available from local farmers in the city.

“We heard from many teachers that the children enjoyed the lessons,” Riggins said. “It goes way beyond food.”

Hogan said this program has changed the way she and other food service team members think from farm to school.

“It was different because you didn’t really feel the atmosphere of the whole process of how the food comes to you,” she said. “I’m more engaged in learning what farmers are doing. And just seeing the excitement of the kids crossing the line and knowing it’s a local product makes it all worth it.