From farm to food

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 6, 2009



LUTCHER – Elementary school students from across St. James Parish spent Monday morning learning what it takes to bring everyday foods to the lunch and dinner tables for consumption.

Students shucked, shelled and ground corn into meal, learned the basics of the food pyramid, shopped for food products made from crops in a jungle setting and got down and dirty with a large pot-bellied pig. The events were part of a full day of activities at the parish’s fourth annual Ag Day at the Mosaic Fast Food Farm in Lutcher.

Denise Hymel, executive director of the Fast Food Farm, said the facility is a two-acre tract of sugarcane farming land that introduces students to the production of various fast foods like hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries and tacos. She said the farm’s goal is to show kids the importance of agriculture to give them an understanding of where everyday foods come from.

The day consisted of 26 separate activities with themes based on healthy eating, nutrition, weather events, soil protection and water conservation. There also was a petting farm — where kids got a hands-on look at baby chickens, rabbits, sheep and pigs — and a simulated cow milking station that showed students how to turn milk into butter.

“Events such as Ag Day are very important in helping our students gain understanding and appreciation for agriculture,” said St. James Schools Superintendent Lonnie Luce. “Farming continues to play a significant role in our parish’s economy, and we want to continue stressing its importance in economic growth.”

Hymel said with the help of the parish’s 4-H Club, the Fast Food Farm hosts about 3,000 students a year from St. James Parish. She said the farm is looking to expand its reach to surrounding parishes to get even more students involved in the lessons being learned.

“Lesson plans focused on agricultural studies are becoming a much more popular trend in the school systems,” Hymel said. “We are finding that kids with more knowledge of where food comes from are more likely to pick up healthier eating habits.”

Annrose Guarino, an associate professor with the LSU AgCenter, cited various studies showing children that get experience working in school gardens are more likely to improve their attitudes toward eating fruits and vegetables. She said edible schoolyards and school gardening projects are a growing trend in Louisiana school systems.

“They encourage children and parents to reconnect with local farmers and the growth and harvesting of food,” Guarino said. “They are contributing to a larger push for self-sustainability across the United States.”

Guarino said government statistics show Louisiana has one of the highest obesity rates in the nation. She said Gov. Bobby Jindal has begun to implement various initiatives designed to educate the public on healthy eating habits.

“So much of the problem lies in the fact that people just don’t have as much access to good healthy foods,” Guarino said. “This is where projects like the Fast Food Farm and school gardens come in handy. The help to encourage the development of backyard gardening at home.”