But for years, CPS officials considered school garden produce too dangerous to serve in cafeterias. Then, quietly in 2013, the district decided to reconsider the policy and launched a program called “Eat What You Grow.”Today, more than 80 schools have gone through safety training to allow students and faculty to bring produce into the classroom and even work it into lunchroom food.
That was the goal of a morning harvest this week at Lindblom Math & Science Academy, where students joined U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in the garden to pick Swiss chard, lettuce, radishes and tomatoes.
“Kids spend so much of their life at school and school can be a place where they develop a foundation for healthy living,” said Murthy, holding a colander of chard. “So to the extent that educators can help kids develop healthy habits with nutrition and activity, to that extent they can help them build a foundation for healthy life thereafter.”
Drew Thomas, the school garden coordinator for CPS, sees the program as a powerful tool to connect kids to healthful foods.“We recognize the research that has demonstrated the value of a farm-to-school approach to nutrition education,” he said. “And our school gardens are kind of the pillars of that program.”
“Last year, we spent more than $3 million to bring in more than 4 million pounds of local produce into the dining center,” Thomas said. “It’s regularly featured on the school menu, but if students don’t have a relationship to that food they don’t choose those options when they are available. “It’s programs like this that really help them build that relationship from seed to harvest.”
After an hour of harvesting, Murthy had to leave for the airport. But the students gathered their vegetables in tubs and carried them up to the cafeteria for the big debut. What happened to the produce after that is unclear, as CPS officials refused to let the media see Lindblom’s lunchroom.
Monica Eng is a WBEZ food and health reporter. Follow her at @monicaeng or write to her at email@example.com