Since joining Regional School Unit 1, Food Service Director Tim Harkins has been pursuing chances for students to experience a variety of fresh, local fruits and vegetables. Thanks in large part to his efforts,
this is the second year that both Fisher Mitchell and Dike Newell elementary schools in Bath will benefit from the USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP).
Fours days a week at Dike Newell and three days a week at Fisher Mitchell, deliveries of raw fruits and vegetables are prepared and divided into 2 - 4-ounce portions by staff or volunteers.
“This is not a snack program,” Harkins clarified. “This is a tasting. The whole purpose is to introduce students to fruits and veggies, and the long-term outcome we’re looking for is to create better eating habits and more adventurous eaters.”
During tastings, teachers discuss where the produce came from, and what benefits it has. To supplement this educational component, the schools are visited once a month by Mid Coast Hospital’s Allison Messier, MPH, a nutritional educator
for Maine SNAP-Ed, another USDA program designed to teach people about good nutrition.
“The kids call me ‘the snack lady,’” Messier said. “I visit all of the classrooms with a new fruit or veggie for them to try. Whenever possible, I try to match the harvest food of the month.”
For younger children, Messier’s visit might include a lesson on good manners accompanied by a picture book. For older children she might bring a worksheet about the produce of the day and a video about how it is grown.
“We are hoping that kids will learn to choose healthy foods over the ‘sometimes’ food,” she said, “Especially when they might not be getting [fresh produce] at home.”
To qualify for both SNAP-Ed and the FFVP, schools must have 50% or more of their student body on free and reduced lunch and must apply yearly for eligibility. Harkins emphasized that buy-in from school staff has been crucial to the success
of the program.
“My staff might get, as an example, 30-40 whole pineapples which they have to prepare between their usual breakfast and lunch meal prep, which is a lot of extra work,” he explained. “Allison has been a great asset for me in terms of being
It might be a lot of work, but Harkins is confident about the importance of these and similar programs within the district.
“This is one piece of a larger philosophy from the district about trying to incorporate fresh, healthy, nutritious foods into our schools and create some better long-term eating habits for our students,” he said.