Let's Move, Blaine! coalition given big grant

Published on Wed, Mar 13, 2013 by Brandy Kiger

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If you are what you eat, doesn’t it make sense to eat the best food possible? The Let’s Move, Blaine! Coalition (LMB) thinks so and is doing everything they can to get healthy, local foods into the hands (and bellies) of children and families in the Blaine school district.

“The idea is that if kids grow up in a culture of eating and growing fresh fruits and vegetables, they’ll continue doing it later in life,” said Dan Persse, LMB co-chair. “We want them to learn these skills early, because it’s the same principle for why they learn math now – so they can apply it later.” 

Helping provide the education and resources needed to accomplish this mission just got a little easier for LMB. Last week, LMB was awarded an $11,500 grant from the Sustainable Whatcom Fund Advisory Committee and will be using the funds to further educate students and families in the district.

“Laurie Sween did a great job putting together an entire enrichment program that was contingent upon this grant,” Mardi Solomon, a Whatcom Farm-to-School coordinator said. “Now that we have it, we can move forward.”

Sween, who is the Kids Take Heart program manager for The Hope Heart Institute, created a comprehensive after-school enrichment program called “Grow For It!” that involves helping kids learn about where food comes from and how it’s made.

Comprised of three phases, students learn everything from how to make bread to how their heart and circulatory systems works to how farms operate.

It’s a key step in helping educate both students and their families about how healthy eating impacts the body, Persse said. Plus, there’s added incentive for kids to participate – they get to run their own booth at the farmer’s market. “Those kids who have gone through the enrichment program can work at the Blaine Farmer’s Market selling produce every Saturday in the summer to earn a $20 stipend. They will be learning to run a market, learning about signage and how to weigh food,” Solomon said. “It’s just one more way to get them involved in the community.” 

Persse had hoped to have a community garden plot set up for the kids to grow their own produce, but it wasn’t in the cards for 2013. “We want to help the city work on their greenways, and Michael Jones has been phenomenal in regards to helping us work with the city,” Persse said. “At this point we don’t have the funds for the water hookup and we’re lacking a volunteer agency to oversee the kids and the garden plot. But that will come in time.” The students will instead sell produce from Jordan Creek Farm located in Ferndale.

During 2012, LMB, in partnership with the Bellevue-based non-profit organization The Hope Heart Institute, was able to secure two grants working with the Bellingham Farm-to-School program and the Whatcom Community Foundation. 

The first grant allowed Blaine Elementary School to host the Health, Math, and Literacy Family Fun Night, when 67 families came together for a healthy, locally-sourced dinner and an opportunity to meet and greet various local farmers and vendors related to leading a healthy and active lifestyle. The second, larger grant provided an opportunity for Blaine Elementary School to host three additional Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies dinners and activities over the course of the 2012-2013 school year. The first was held in October 2012 and drew 32 families. 

The next Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies dinner is scheduled for March 27 at Blaine Elementary School and will promote serving healthy local food at school and at home. “The featured organization at this event is FoodSense,” Solomon said. “They will be working with families to show them how to assemble salads and smoothies as part of the meal, as well as providing nutrition education and talking about the importance of eating together as a family.”

There will also be an obstacle course, vendor booths and information about how to join a community supported agriculture (CSA) share. “The LMB coalition has a goal to get workplace CSAs set up in as many Blaine and Birch Bay employers as possible. The city of Blaine is already on board and is offering a CSA, and with this grant we want to get the same kind of thing set up for Blaine School District employees,” Solomon said. “The grant money pays for ten CSA shares up front, since the costs can be high, and then the employees can get their food from June to October and have the cost deducted out of their paychecks each month.”

Solomon said that while the costs vary by farm and the amount of produce elected to receive, it generally works out to around $25 a week per box for a whole share. “In addition to setting up the CSA program for Blaine school employees, we want to help Blaine families get connected with these resources as well,” Solomon said. “We’ll have two CSA farmers at the event and families can sign up there.”

Persse is excited about the progress that LMB is making. “It’s awesome,” he said. “We went from $580 for our first event back in June to a $5,000 grant for Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies events. Now we’re up to $11,500. That tells me we’re moving in the right direction.”