Long Prairie – Grey Eagle Schools & BLEND

In just under two years, BLEND – along with many community partners and the newly established Long Prairie Wellness Network – has seen tremendous success building and sustaining a culture of health that has empowered the Long Prairie community to place wellness as a top priority. In a recent blog titled “BLEND is in Long Prairie” we highlighted a couple of the successful initiatives that has helped craft a new narrative for this small, rural community. But wait…the story doesn’t end there! With the help of a budding relationship with the local school district, we’re writing another successful chapter.

The Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (LPGE) School District is a strong pillar in the community; serving over 900 students. BLEND and LPGE had passed each other in the halls and in the community over the years, but it wasn’t until our “first date” back in May 2016 that we encountered similarities and a true friendship. Between the dates of May 2nd – 6th (2016), BLEND – with CentraCare Health Dietitian (Clara) and SNAP-Ed Educator (Elizabeth) – implemented a weeklong “Every Kid Healthy Week” celebration to get kids moving and encourage them to try new, healthy foods. A grant provided by the Action for Healthy Kids was awarded to LPGE that allowed for all elementary students to sample fruits, vegetables, and edible flowers during lunch. In addition to the kids trying new root vegetables and tropical fruits, the school started the day with classroom fitness activities called Energizers. Energizers are activity breaks that can be built into the school day to get students up and moving more, which helps them focus and learn more throughout the day.

This budding relationship has now moved on to a “second date” with LPGE!

With BLEND’s help, the LPGE Elementary School was awarded a Jeffers Foundation grant to implement a school garden. SNAP-Ed Educator Elizabeth and CentraCare Health – Long Prairie Dietitian Clara, with help this time from a local Master Gardener (Lori), taught the students how to plant, weed, water, and harvest the crops. Students were able to sample the produce on-site and take home the extras, which fueled a growing interest in the garden and locally grown foods.

Okay – we’re invested in this relationship and a new conversation around Farm-to-School has started! 

The conversation came at an optimal time.  You see…the Minnesota Department of Agriculture announced a Farm-to-School grant that could help schools purchase kitchen equipment to increase the amount of “local” foods served in the cafeteria. When schools are able to upgrade and utilize commercial-grade equipment, it greatly increases the efficiency of preparing fresh and local produce. This is a win-win for kitchen staff and for the kiddos!  With the help of BLEND, LPGE applied for the grant. Guess what?  We just learned that LPGE was awarded the Farm-to-School grant to purchase a steam table for the elementary kitchen. YAY!!

LPGE kitchen staff has fully embraced Farm-to-School. They have built relationships with local farmers – including Agua Gorda. They have incorporated fresh Farm-to-School menu items available during lunchtime. And, looking at ways to increase consumption of healthy foods and decrease waste. These strategies are called Smarter Lunchroom techniques. Smarter Lunchrooms, which is a behavioral economics assessment, is being conducted in the LPGE cafeteria. By using simple techniques, such as placing healthier items at eye level or renaming menu items to be more appealing (Sizzling Green Beans or UnBEETable Hummus, for example) it alters perceptions, increases convenience of healthy choices, and decreases the amount of waste in the cafeteria. And with little-to-no-cost for the school to implement – these easy changes in the cafeteria can be effective. It’s a no brainer!

Today, the relationship continues to flourish! 

BLEND has helped LPGE establish the District’s Student Wellness Committee which includes administrators, a school nurse, staff, and many others. As a member of this committee, BLEND is assisting the school in updating their “Local School Wellness Policy” which is a requirement for schools participating in federal breakfast and lunch programs.

BLEND is also part of a conversation to implement Second Chance Breakfast (2CB). 2CB allows kids who might not feel hungry or have time to eat breakfast in the morning before school to access a grab and go option after the first bell. Studies have proven a decrease in behavioral issues and an increase in attentive students when students have something to eat in the morning.

We are so proud of and enthused by this amazing relationship we’ve built with LPGE. This chapter is definitely not over – so stayed tuned for more from the LPGE and BLEND story!