Great Barrington – When it comes to innovation, listen to young people. At Monument Mountain Regional High School it was a cadre of 16 students, from sophomores to seniors, who took matters into their own hands to improve the quality of snacks offered in between classes. Out with processed junk food offered in vending machines; in with organically-grown items and locally produced fruits and vegetables. Young people can be so much more keen about what’s healthy and good for them – and what’s not – than adults.
Frustrated with the dearth of healthy, nutritious snack food available in the school, sixteen MMRHS students started what they call a Farm to School Stand – in effect, an in-school market — where students can buy affordably-priced, healthy munchies to supplement cafeteria lunches. And located in an ample storage room adjacent to the cafeteria, the School Stand became an instant success the minute it opened in November.
“It’s been wildly popular,” observed sophomore Emma Adler of Stockbridge, who helps staff the shop during school hours.
In part, the students have been inspired by the Student Senate’s campaign to make sure a healthy lunch menu, whose offerings are made from locally grown and organic ingredients, is served at least once a month, in place of the food-factory items trucked in by Sysco and served regularly to an increasingly discerning student body. Sysco fare may meet budget, as far as school officials are concerned – but that’s about the best you can say about it. And it hardly meets the standards of healthy food that kids have come to expect – and demand.
The farm stand has also benefited from new Department of Education regulations, instituted last fall, that insist on nutritious school lunch menus with more fruits and vegetables, and far less sugar. The new dietary guidelines have also led to the removal of vending machines that dispense processed items, those fat- and high fructose-laden snacks.
“We have to eat lunches, and we need snacks during the day, and we want to have a healthy lifestyle, but it’s been difficult at school where there haven’t been healthy food options,” explained Quinn Abrams, a sophomore from Great Barrington. “Until now.”
The Farm to School Stand is stocked with treats such as clementines, bananas, kasha granola bars, apples, oranges, strawberry and raspberry fruit leathers, sunflower seeds, mango slices, and fruit smoothies.
Clementines go for 25 cents, bananas for 75, while Cliff bars sell for $1.25 and fruit leathers for half a dollar.
And thanks to local markets, such as the Berkshire Coop and Guido’s, the store also sells trail mix, granola, and freshly made quinoa salads.
“The local stores are really excited about what we’re doing, and we’re really grateful for their help,” commented sophomore Wilson Kaplan of Great Barrington.
The Farm Stand is acquiring the items it sells at cost, and if a student is having a hard time paying for this healthy stuff, the Farm Stand coalition has an innovative solution for that, too.
“We have an honor system that we call ‘pending’ food,” Adler explained. “Some students can pay a little bit more for an item or buy one for someone else, and the difference goes into a pool for those who can’t afford them.”
“Kids who are less advantaged have a chance to take advantage of healthy food tabs, so to speak, so we make sure they have it covered, even if they can’t,” Kaplan said.
“We’re trying to improve the health of the community as a whole, students and through students, parents,” noted junior Samie Mitchell of New Marlborough. “Kids can spend a good $10 a day on stuff that’s bad for them, if it weren’t for the Farm Stand. At first, our healthy food initiative – the Farm Stand and the locally-grown lunch project — ran into obstacles, but we have to show them – some of the school authorities – that what we are doing isn’t in place of lunch. We’re working with, rather than competing with, the cafeteria.”
“We feel this is an educational enterprise, too,” Abrams pointed out. “We’re learning basic business skills, and organizing a community endeavor. Our biggest challenged is to learn how to work with the basic federal and state regulations on the nutritional guidelines, such as the proper size of the snacks. So we’re working with the Coop and Guido’s, and it is our hope to work with other local stores. We get our apples from Bartlett’s and Windy Hill Farm, for example. But our bigger hope is to introduce this kind of food into the Middle School, and then have other schools in the Berkshires adopt this program.”