New Hampshire School Children Getting Healthy by Eating Fresh, Local Food

By Eleanor Baron

New Hampshire school administrators, nutrition professionals, nurses, teachers and local farmers didn’t need a celebrity chef coming to town to get inspired to change the way our kids eat. With no film crew, no media buzz, creative people have been at work for years in New Hampshire to bring healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables into our schools, and they’re getting results. Although media phenomenom Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” television series may be indicative of nationally growing interest in healthy food, the series gained little respect in the school nutrition community as a whole. Without a reality television show, that community was already in full gear, working to combat childhood obesity through healthy eating.

Here in New Hampshire, multiple programs are in place to improve school menus and change eating habits, incorporating fresh food from local farms and creating a linkage between the classroom and the state’s rich agricultural heritage.

Since 2003, beginning with making New Hampshire apples and cider available to local schools, children throughout the state have enjoyed fresh, locally produced food as part of their school lunch program. Through the New Hampshire Farm to School Program, food service directors make connections with local farms to buy fresh produce locally. “We have 302 schools, K through 12, participating in the program right now,” says Stacey Purslow, program coordinator. “We’re constantly finding new farms to participate. There’s a big push right now to bring healthier foods into the cafeteria.” Many children discover new foods through the program, expanding their tastes, but that’s an extra benefit, according to Purslow. “Although getting kids to try new foods is important, Farm to School wants kinds to enjoy fresh, local foods, even if they are not new.”

New Hampshire Farm to School, a collaboration of the UNH Office of Sustainability, Share Our Strength and the New Hampshire Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture, works with farmers, distributors, teachers, food service professionals and administrators to adopt farm to school practices, in turn supporting both local economies and agriculture in the state. Program staff will help schools negotiate simple, affordable systems for local purchasing. Through the program’s website, teachers can access curriculum materials, posters, fieldtrip guides, vegetable fact sheets—even stickers—to support the effort year-round in the classroom.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, administered through the New Hampshire Department of Education, provides another boost of support to 95 eligible schools in low income communities. Eligible schools must have 50 percent or higher participation in the free and reduced lunch program. Funds are distributed to the school based on the number of students; between $50 and $75 is allocated per student, and food must be served outside the lunch period. The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program has, in many cases, provided a springboard for other agriculture-related activities in schools, such as school gardens, but the big benefit is getting children eating fresh, healthy foods and, sometimes, trying new foods.

School Nurse Jacque Puk of the Hilltop School in Somersworth (SAU #56) has been working with the teachers and food service staff to bring healthy snacks to the school’s children for two years through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Staff set up a healthy snack in the cafeteria each morning, and teachers stop by to pick it up for their classroom. “The kids love the apples, melons, tomatoes and celery. They’re really eating a lot more variety now,” she says. According to Puk, who writes the grant proposal each year to secure funding for the program, there are lots of good resources in New Hampshire to support her efforts. (See “Resources,” below.)

Hilltop School children share her enthusiasm for the program—or, rather, the food. “They are healthy. I like watermelon, blueberries, tomatoes and green beans. I would miss the fruits if they were not there for snack,” reported one satisfied student.

Writing for School Notes this month is Eleanor Baron, director of communications with the New Hampshire Local Government Center. Contact her with your New Hampshire Town and City story ideas by e-mail at or by phone at 800.852.3358, ext. 137.

Resources for Healthy Food in Schools

New Hampshire Farm to School Program
Stacey Purslow, Program Coordinator: or 603.862.2542

New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Fruit and Vegetable Program

Let’s Move! America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids

Healthy Eating Active Living New Hampshire (HEAL NH)

UNH Cooperative Extention Nutrition Resources for Teachers

Department of Education, Bureau of Nutrition Programs and Services