The University of Wisconsin and Madison have teamed with a nonprofit group to bring locally grown produce into area schools.
The Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch, as it is called, is partnership between the university's Integrated Agricultural Systems and the Madison-based non-profit organization, REAP Food Group.
It was created in 2003 to help local growers and food service professionals introduce fresh, locally grown products into local elementary school cafeterias.
Now the program has moved down the hall, from lunchroom to classroom. In 2005, Homegrown Lunch launched a weekly classroom snack program in Lincoln Elementary. The program worked so well that the group expanded to four schools this past year.
"It's been wildly successful. We probably moved more produce [in the first few months] with the snack program than we did with the lunch program over the past few years," says Doug Wubben, project coordinator for Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch.
Through a grant funded by the American Dietetic Association, Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch was able to hire student researchers to prepare the snacks and analyze the pros and cons of the overall process.
Early in the project, it became apparent an intermediary processing step was needed to turn raw produce to a "recipe-ready" product that schools could use.
"It's a challenge with schools, that they're not open during some of the most productive growing months," Theis says. "So we get early vegetables in May and the fall harvest, but we miss the whole strawberry season and other summer crops."