Secretary of Agriculture visits York Suburban

Alyssa Pressler
  • Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding visited York Suburban Middle School to award a grant.
  • The Farm to School grant will allow the food service company to serve local, fresh food.
  • York Suburban is one of several schools in Pennsylvania to win these grants.

The "farm-to-table" movement is something that's popular with adults trying to eat healthy, but sometimes it misses children who are at an age where they develop habits for the rest of their lives.

This is why York Suburban Middle School has been working hard to give students more healthful options at lunch, and it's why the school applied for a Farm to School mini-grant, which it  received. The grant will go toward purchasing healthy, local produce to serve students at lunch.

Sean Arnold, the chef at York Suburban Middle School, tells a group of students about the healthy snack he has prepared for them to sample Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. The school held a celebration with Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding after receiving a Farm to School mini-grant, allowing the school to purchase more healthy, local foods.

York Suburban Middle School is one of 30 schools in the state that applied for these mini-grants.

Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding and David Volkman, executive deputy secretary for the state Department of Education, made the trip Wednesday from Harrisburg to celebrate with the middle school.

Celebrating: The celebration took place in the school's brand new cafeteria, which is set up like a food court, with several food stands for students to choose from. For example, they can purchase a pre-packaged salad, have a made-to-order sandwich or try the international  dish of the day.

School chef Sean Arnold  served samples of potato, butternut squash and apple in a small lettuce wrap. Students were encouraged to take a sample and try a new combination of food, which was made with local produce.

"One of the goals is to always have fresh produce," said Corrine Mason, director of finance for the school.

Mason was one of the people who helped write the grant, which awarded the school up to $1,000. Another person who helped is Helen Heidler, the food service director for York Suburban through Whitsons Culinary Group.

Heidler said she will use the money to purchase produce to expose students to leafy greens, local beans and root vegetables.

"What I love about Whitsons is they believe food served to students should look good and taste good," Heidler said. "We want them excited for lunch."

Sean Arnold, York Suburban Middle School's chef, places his healthy snack option on the table Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. He made potatoes, butternut squash and apples, all seasoned differently and served on a piece of lettuce to eat like a taco, for the school to celebrate the reception of a Farm to School mini-grant.

Work at the school to get students interested in trying healthier foods has been going on for quite some time. Heidler said she's been working with local farms for more than three years to give students as many options for local food as possible. This grant will allow her to do even more.

Trying new things: The new cafeteria, which Heidler and other employees at Whitsons Culinary Group worked with the district on, is another step in giving students more options.

"Student palettes are elevating, and they want to try new things," said Craig Whitcomb, vice president of Whitsons Culinary Group.

Even with children as young as middle school, Whitcomb seems to be right. Destiny Scholes and Kaitie Webb, both seventh-graders, echoed his sentiments.

"I feel healthier eating this," Destiny said, referring to the sample they were given for the special occasion. Kaitie appreciated that it was something she wouldn't normally try.

"It's nice to have something different," she said.

Healthy for life: Volkman explained its important from an educational standpoint to get students eating healthier because it makes them better learners. He pointed to research that has shown students who eat healthier snacks before exams get better scores and are able to focus more.

Russell Redding, Pennsylvania's Secretary of Agriculture, addresses a group of York Suburban Middle Students about agriculture and  healthy eating on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017.

"What's been found is healthy food produces healthy learners all around," Volkman said.

He also pointed out the high child poverty level in Pennsylvania and said school is often a student's only access to nutritious food throughout the day.

Gabbie Gurreri, a 13-year-old seventh-grader, said being a better student and athlete is why she enjoys choosing the healthier options at lunch.

"I think it's important to eat healthy because you're going to be able to get the nutrients you need to participate well in class," she said.

Scott Krauser, school principal, said he and other administrators in the district are committed to teaching students about healthy lifestyles. By offering students healthier options and new food, he hopes the habits will carry on later in their lives.

"We want to start those habits, and then we want those habits to turn into routines, and then we want those routines to turn into lifestyles," he said.

Beyond making healthy food choices for the rest of their lives, Redding is hoping more students become interested in a career in the agriculture industry. During his presentation, he asked students if they had started to think about their future.

"I would just ask that you think about food and agriculture as one of those careers," he said.