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Weston County schools adopt a program to connect kids with locally produced food

Foodservice staff work to prepare lunch for elementary and middle school students.
Hugh Cook
/
Wyoming Public Media
Foodservice staff work to prepare lunch for elementary and middle school students.

Students in Weston County schools are eating locally grown and raised foods and learning about the role of local agriculture as part of a nationwide Farm to School program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees the program, which has been implemented by 67,000 schools nationwide. Several school districts in the state have also adopted the program as well.

Students at Upton Elementary and Middle School ate at tables set up at one end of the basketball court. The offerings are alfredo, broccoli, breadsticks, and a banana. Not all of the food students eat is raised locally, but what does come from the community is being integrated in the students' meals throughout the school year.

Two of the students are playing a bigger part in this new program. Sixth grader Cooper Miller’s grandfather helped donate part of a cow for the program.

“We had the idea that we should donate a beef to the school because a lot of the stuff the school buys is either frozen or comes in the processed food and stuff, so we just thought it’d be a fun way for town kids to get ranch-fed beef,” he explained.

When it comes down to it, Cooper isn’t shy about giving his opinion on what makes a better school lunch.

“I would take ranch-fed beef over frozen meats and stuff just because I know where it’s coming from and I know, like, not saying if they would put stuff in it that’s not healthy, but just on the safe side,” he said.

A lunch of alfredo, broccoli, breadsticks, and a banana were on the menu Oct. 26. in Upton. While some food is still brought in from elsewhere, local meats such as beef, sheep, and lamb are also incorporated into the menu. Foodservice staff estimate that five animals will be enough to serve students throughout the school year.
Hugh Cook
/
Wyoming Public Media
A lunch of alfredo, broccoli, breadsticks, and a banana were on the menu Oct. 26. in Upton. While some food is still brought in from elsewhere, local meats such as beef, sheep, and lamb are also incorporated into the menu. Foodservice staff estimate that five animals will be enough to serve students throughout the school year.

Making sure students are well fed requires that the livestock that will be served is well fed as well. Cooper’s sister Jorie, who’s in third grade, also helps in raising the livestock.

“First we have to break our cattle down, if it’s a steer we have to band them, if we’re going to turn them into a bull, we don’t band them. If it’s a heifer, we just leave it alone,” she said. “We have to pick them. So we have a big bunch of cows, we have to go in, pick all the good ones out, put them in a pen, feed them either day or night or just night or just in the mornings.”

This is what the farm to school program hopes to do: get kids to become aware of how food is grown and processed to eventually become that burger, taco or goulash on their tray. The idea is that districts start purchasing local foods and eventually they can get federal dollars to help support it.

Joyce and Sam Haptonstall are part of the local partnership that makes a program like this successful. They’ve donated vegetables for it after being approached by the district at the local farmer’s market.

“They asked if we would be willing to sell cucumbers and green beans and so I said, ‘I guess,’” she said. “What they wanted to do is have the kids make a connection with us since I taught here.”

Joyce’s teaching career lasted for more than 40 years in Upton, teaching at the elementary level. And while she’s been retired for over a decade, her daughter also teaches at the school, a direct link for today’s students.

Some of their produce raised in their home garden was sold at low cost to the school.

Raymond Norris is a local rancher. He’s donated some lambs for the school’s use.

“There was three head this year that made up the amount that they thought they needed, and it was all turned into lamb burger and it’s been used in different dishes and whatnot,” he said.

He raises Katahdin sheep, which he said is a different breed than regular wool sheep. They don’t need to be sheared and shed naturally, like a cow or horse.

“It makes the meat taste a lot different than regular wool sheep and our idea was to not only be able to donate to the school for the purpose of donating, but also to let the kids have a taste of lamb as they're growing up and if they like it, they will eat more of it,” Norris added. “And that will be great all the way around.”

That’s the point of the program. Clark Coberly is the Superintendent of Weston County School District #7, which serves Upton and is made up of about 225 students K-12.

“They do get to see, especially when it’s local families that have cattle and their classmates are the ones that donated it and that type of thing, it’s neat for the kids to understand,” he said.

Breadsticks and salad dressing wait to be served to students at lunch at Upton Elementary and Middle School.
Hugh Cook
/
Wyoming Public Media
Breadsticks and salad dressing wait to be served to students at lunch at Upton Elementary and Middle School.

Sheri Frederick is one of the cooks at the school. She added that the generosity of the community has been a key part of what they do.

“It’s actually really nice to have that donated and the people that care enough to want to do that for our school,” she said.

Though it has only been in effect since the beginning of this school year, the program has been getting more exposure. In Weston County School District #1, which serves Newcastle, the Farm to School program was only just recently adopted. They’re not serving local food just yet, but school officials hope they will soon.

“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see something happen around the first part of the year, and then if not then, I would definitely think by next school year,” said Brad LaCroix, superintendent of WCSD #1.

The whole idea of the program after all is to get local communities involved with the students.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.

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