Students and faculty at Salmon River School District have seen a big increase in access to nutritious foods thanks to a pilot program designed to create a sustainable source of fresh produce.
The seed to tray initiative is led by students with support from school district Librarian Michelle Oakes and Food Services Director Nicole Foster, and funded in part with a grant from The Heart Network’s Creating Healthy School & Communities (CHSC) program, which works year-round to promote nutrition and physical activity in school and community settings, as well as in early childcare programming.
“This initiative provides students a chance to take ownership of both their learning as well as lunch options available to them through the school cafeteria,” Oakes said. “Growing their own produce helps students take pride in their work, knowing they have a say in what is provided to them.”
The seed to tray program began over a year and a half ago, with students assembling eight grow carts and two composters, which are housed in a space adjacent to the school library. Students prep and clean seed trays, monitor water and other growing conditions, and then harvest, weigh and supply their greens to Foster and the school cafeteria. Since October 2022, the students have supplied the cafeteria with 27.5 pounds of greens, saving the district nearly $230 this year.
“The spring mix and basil grown by students doesn’t just save money — it provides students with real world, hands-on experience in the process of growing food,” Oakes said. “These greens are a good supplement to what the district purchases from outside vendors. This can and is being scaled up to address the sustainability of the school’s ability to increase access to nutritious foods.”
Students are also tasked with the challenge of establishing when they can grow food for the school. Oakes and her students take into account the timing of school breaks and how to address climate control within an indoor environment.
“This process is the launching space for a more comprehensive food growing program within the district,” said Kat Harkins, The Heart Network’s CHSC coordinator. “When I first met with Michelle, it was clear she is a champion within the district. She has identified a site outdoors where a school greenhouse will be developed along with the intention that students attending summer school can, in place of a study hall, help in the garden. At the end of the summer, students will participate in preserving their harvest to see the cycles from seed to tray in full.”
To date, Salmon River and The Heart Network have worked on a number of wellness initiatives supporting students and faculty. This spring, the two organizations will continue that partnership with an audit of walking trails on the school campus.
“Our goal is to see how we can improve their use for both younger kids and adults,” Foster noted. “Some possibilities would be activity centers for kids and lighting so families in the community can have the opportunity to walk before sunrise or after the sun sets.”
To learn more about nutrition and wellness initiatives at Salmon River School District, contact Kat Harkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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