DETROIT (WWJ) – When you walk inside the giant “hoop house” on the grounds of the Drew Transitional Center in Detroit, you are overcome with a feast for the eyes and stomach: row upon row of greens, cauliflowers, herbs, broccoli and lettuce.
Three years ago the Detroit Public Schools began a food revolution in its cafeterias when the Farm to School initiative was born.
Today, 45 schools have gardens and a couple of them have these giant hoop-houses. (A Hoop house is a portable greenhouse). ”
But the changes did not end there.
“We unplugged the fryers and rolled out the soda machines out of the building,” said Betty Wiggins the Director of School Nutrition. “We also have one vegetarian day a week, whole grain breads are used and only low sugar juices and low fat milks and water are served.”
Wiggins also said each student is entitled to a free breakfast and lunch and sometimes a dinner for those in afternoon programs. She observed that it was the “near poor” children who were in a food crisis. Poor children were always given a free lunch–the near poor were the ones with chips and pop.
She said, in low wage earning families, parents are often faced with tough choices. “They have five dollars, so they split it. Some goes into gas to get to work and then a couple of dollars go to the child to buy some cheap food at the gas station.”
The new program gives every child two healthy meals every day.
“Here at Drew, on a average harvest, we are able to get 30 pounds of greens out of our hoop-house” says Horticulture instructor Michael Craig. They supply most of the greens used in the school cafeteria and have enough left over they sell at Eastern Market.
The dream: “I’d love to produce enough here to bottle our own salsa’s and spaghetti sauce,” said Craig. .
Craig says he’s had educators from around the country visit to gain insight in to the success of the Detroit project.
In he next year there is plan for an orchard at this school
So how does all this taste? “Great,” said 11-year.old Marisol Gusman. “This tastes like my mom’s food.”
At Earhardt Elementary in South West Detroit, Marisol and her classmates line up for non-fried chicken fingers and oven baked “fries.”
Principle Gerlma Johnson said the biggest difference she noticed after the food change: “more clean plates — fewer kids were picking at their food.”