Project Produce

Creating a Healthy Community

  • CAF Programs
  • April 06, 2016
  • By: Emily Gallivan
  • Comments

Working in a small school district for over 13 years in the rural and unassuming town of Trenton, Tennessee, Lisa Seiber knows how costly it can be to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, and how difficult it can be enticing students to eat them. Doubling as the Food Service Director and Financial Director for Trenton Special School District, Seiber walks a financial tight rope, balancing a small budget with her desire to serve her kids fresh, healthy food at school. Fresh fruits and vegetable offerings in particular were driving the school food budget up dramatically. Looking for a cost-effective way to offer more of these healthy options, especially to those who may not have reliable sources of food outside of school, Seiber discovered Project Produce: Fruit and Veggie Grants for Schools. Jumping on the opportunity, she quickly applied and to her delight, was accepted into the program in December 2014.

Trenton Elementary, Trenton Special School District, Trenton, TN

  • District Size - enrollment: 1,400
  • Number of Schools in District: 3
  • Project Produce Schools: Trenton Elementary
  • F/R Percentage (free and Reduced): 65%
  • District ADP (Average Daily Participation): 67%

Project Produce is a grant program that provides $2,500 to schools to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables for school-wide nutrition education activities. Seiber decided to use the money to organize tasting events at the elementary school, so Trenton’s youngest could taste and experience unknown fruits and veggies that many were not getting at home. Ten tasting events, “Tasty Tuesday”, “Tasty Thursday” and “Fresh Fruit Fridays,” were held over the course of the 2015/2016 school year, giving the little ones the chance to munch on exotic kiwi, crunchy carrots and broccoli, sweet clementines and juicy cherry tomatoes. Brave taste testers were rewarded with stickers for participating. “It was an awesome opportunity to provide students with new fruit and vegetable choices and to open their horizons to a variety of options rather than the apple or banana,” Seiber reflects. Posters were hung on the salad bar with nutrition information about the item being tasted that day. The lessons learned in the lunchroom were further reinforced in the classroom, as teachers engaged their classes in conversations about the health benefits of the fruits and vegetables just sampled. 

Not only were the kids learning why the new fruits and veggies were good for their bodies, they loved the tastings, and were always excited and willing to try unfamiliar items! She found students requesting seconds and constantly asking her questions like, “May we have kiwi daily?” Through these tasting events students’ love for fresh fruits and veggies quickly blossomed.

Going Beyond Fruits and Vegetables 

Not only did the grant help Seiber instill healthy eating habits throughout the school, it strengthened relationships between students and food service. Through the tastings, students engaged much more with cafeteria staff and were able to establish better, more thoughtful relationships within the lunchroom. A sense of community flourished around the importance of healthy and delicious food.

At first, Seiber admits she struggled to find enough staff for the tastings, but she came up with a creative solution to overcome this obstacle: enlisting student volunteers from the middle and high school. Drawing helpers from groups like student council and the cheerleading squad, Seiber fostered new connections across age groups, allowing kids of all ages to interact in the fun yet educational settings. 

The strong sense of community continued to grow around the events, and soon, students weren’t the only ones lending a helping hand. Sitting in district meetings, Sebier was inundated with other district employees eager to offer their assistance. “Before, I was picking up the phone to say ‘do you think you could send me somebody to help?’. Now they volunteer - they just call me and offer to do it!” The healthy tasting events became a group effort that brought the school community together in ways they had never experienced before. “The Chef Ann Foundation has been a blessing to our school district,” Seiber gratefully reflects.  

More Eating, Less Waste

Beyond the immediate impact of the projects, Seiber has noticed long-term benefits from the tasting events. There has been a significant reduction in fruit and vegetable waste in the cafeteria. Before the tasting events, students would often trash the produce items on their trays. Now, “little gets thrown away anymore, and if one student doesn’t eat their fruits or vegetables, then a student nearby is likely to eat it for them,” remarks the Cafeteria Manager. In Trenton Tennessee, the expense of fruits and vegetables has now become money well spent.

Some parting advice for other schools interested in launching Project Produce events: be sure to work with the school principal. Seiber found that teaming up with Trenton Elementary’s Principal helped create more impactful events. Principals know their student body, and their guidance and suggestions are crucial for making the tastings a success. Seiber also partnered with Tennessee Coordinated School Health, an organization that connects physical, emotional and social health with education, and suggests that other schools look to form such partnerships as well. 

Overall, Seiber encourages other districts to apply and believes that no matter the district, “it will work!” Seiber found the project to be very manageable and strongly encourages other schools to apply. She is already looking forward to applying for funding for the middle and high school in her district and believes this grant can help districts big and small, urban and rural. “There are students everywhere that are not getting the nutrition they need, and Project Produce offers a great way to get it to them!” We could not agree more! 

Learn more about how you can apply for a Project Produce grant here. We look forward to reviewing your application!

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