Fresh Minds and Fresh Foods: Local Food and Education Programs in Southern Wisconsin

From foodtank.com, by Sarah Small
Fresh Minds and Fresh Foods: Local Food and Education Programs in Southern Wisconsin

REAP Food Group aims to create a community of informed and nourished eaters. Through their many programs and task forces, REAP is making local sustainable food a priority in southern Wisconsin. Their latest projects have focused on providing healthy foods to elementary schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District as well as nutrition education.

Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Miriam Grunes, Executive Director of REAP Food Group.

Food Tank (FT): How do you contribute to creating a better food system?

Miriam Grunes (MG): REAP Food Group approaches food system reform at systemic, industry, and individual levels, creating long and short term change for farmers, producers, and community members in southern Wisconsin. REAP is building the supply chain to bring fresh, local food into schools, restaurants, and healthcare institutions. Through the Buy Fresh Buy Local Southern Wisconsin program, REAP provides local food consulting services to partner restaurants, grocers, and healthcare institutions and marketing to help share their support of local food.  REAP’s Farm to School program is feeding the next generation of eaters fresh, local produce in schools and teaching them about whole food through classroom and culinary lessons. REAP is helping individuals access local food through the Farm Fresh Atlas and community events. With 18 years of experience, REAP has the connections and knowledge to build a local food system that offers access to sustainable, healthy food for all in our community.

FT: What is a project, program, or result you are most proud of?

MG: REAP’s Farm to School program partners with the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) to offer fresh, healthy food at school.  REAP helps MMSD Food & Nutrition procure local fruits and vegetables for service in school meals, the Summer Food Program, and REAP’s snack program, which serves a fresh produce snacks to over 5,000 low-income elementary students a week. Farm to School is building the infrastructural capacity to serve more local food in schools with the installation of salad bars in nearly 30 MMSD schools. Finally, REAP Farm to School builds student excitement for healthy food through classroom education led by REAP AmeriCorps members and hands-on culinary lessons taught by some of Madison’s best chefs. Beyond the day-to-day impact REAP’s Farm to School program has with students, the size and diversity of MMSD make it a model school district for farm to school programs in other urban school districts across the country.

FT: What are your goals for 2015 and beyond?

MG: REAP is focused on expanding access to the local food system for low-income and minority communities, especially children and their families. REAP’s Farm to School program creates early access to fresh food for low-income and minority students. As Farm to School efforts are expanded, more students will be reached with healthy food, which studies show can lead to a lifetime of healthy eating choices. The development of Farm to School to-go kits will allow more educators to teach their students about local food. REAP’s Farm to Business work is focused on food businesses with lower barriers to entry, such as food carts, and minority owned restaurants. REAP’s goals are in response to studies showing major racial and economic disparities in Dane County, Wisconsin. REAP aims to make our community more equitable through local food.

FT: In one sentence, what is the most important thing eaters and consumers can do today to support a more sustainable food system?

MG: Eaters should consume food that is grown or produced locally by farmers, producers, and chefs whose food supports environmental, human and animal, and worker health.

FT: How can individuals become more involved in your organization?

MG: REAP needs volunteers for our Farm to School program and community events. Email us for more information. The generosity of passionate individuals powers REAP’s work building a healthy, just, and sustainable local food system. See how you can donate at HERE.

Download the 2014 Good Food Org Guide HERE.

Submit your suggestions for the 2015 guide HERE.