Minnesota moms work to stop rate of childhood obesity

Published 3:36 pm Saturday, April 17, 2010

A childhood obesity epidemic has many fearing this generation of children will have a shorter lifespan than their parents or grandparents.

A lack of physical activity is one of the causes, but the biggest culprit is a diet high in calories and low in nutrition.

A growing number of moms in the region are working to turn things around, both at home and in school cafeterias.

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They are making some headway, according to Lynn Mader. A dietitian and self-described “angry mom,” Mader is promoting the Farm to School project in the area as part of the State Health Improvement Plan.

In the last two years, the number of school districts in Minnesota that have introduced locally produced farm products into their school lunches has doubled to more than 70, Mader said.

During a presentation in Montevideo in early April, Mader screened a film called “Two Angry Moms,” sponsored by the Land Stewardship Project. It’s a documentary about two mothers in New York who launched a campaign to improve their children’s school lunch programs.

Parents are taking the initiative to do the same here, too. Stacey Ross is one of four mothers who organized “The Daily Bread” to bring locally produced foods to children attending the Marshall Area Christian School.

Twice a week, the mothers and other volunteers serve lunches comprised of locally raised foods, cooked from scratch. Their offerings range from homemade pizza with whole grain dough from Dry Weather Creek in Watson to meals featuring fresh vegetables from EarthRise Farm in Madison and meats from Moonstone Farms in Montevideo.

Lunches are open to staff and the school’s 93 students. School lunches featuring the standard fare of processed foods usually attract 20 people. When the Daily Bread mothers serve their local food lunches, anywhere from 80 to 90 guests are on hand, Ross said.

“We try to create the environment where the kids felt that this was a special place to be,” she said.

There are challenges. “’We’re finding that this may be ahead of its time in this part of the state,” said Ross.

It has proven difficult to find local food producers in the Marshall area. The mothers drive an hour north to the Montevideo area to find many of their supplies.

Tom Taylor, Land Stewardship Project, said the effort to promote local foods in this area is focusing on building the infrastructure needed.

It’s taking place at a slow but deliberate pace, Taylor said. It can start with something as simple as a local producer providing apples for a single day’s meals at a school. Once that relationship is established, the chances improve that the producer and others can supply a greater share of apples in the future, he said.

Willmar offers one of the best examples of the approach, Mader said. Willmar Schools are leading the way by introducing local foods to students at least once a month, she said. Willmar students are introduced to the producer and learn what it takes to raise local foods, she added.

Mader said there is no doubt it takes extra effort by schools to introduce local foods, but she is encouraged. Not only are more schools making the effort, but those who have started it are not turning back. “No one is quitting,” she said.