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A berry good lunch: Local strawberries a treat for students

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

MILLBRIDGE — Sophia, a third grader at Millbridge Elementary, loves strawberries.

“I almost ate a whole Patterson’s bucket last night,” she said.

When she walked through the lunch line on Thursday, she, and other Millbridge students, got a surprise – fresh, N.C. strawberries for lunch.

Rowan-Salisbury School Nutrition Supervisor Kimberly Hurley said the fruit is part of a farm-to-table initiative the school system takes part in. Every two weeks, a shipment of fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms is delivered.

“There’s always something new,” Hurley said.

The system gets everything from lettuce to sweet potatoes and peaches from N.C. farms, and Hurley said they try to buy produce as locally as possible. And when it comes to strawberries, that means Patterson Farms.

“It’s right in our back yard,” she said, sitting in the bustling Millbridge cafeteria.

From Millbridge, the farm is just a hop, skip and a jump away. Assistant Principal Dr. Angela Lingel-Linder said that kindergartners went strawberry picking just last week. And the Patterson family has helped make the school shine – even helping with a “discovery garden,” on the school’s front lawn.

“They have always been great supporters of Millbridge,” she said.

Earlier in May, Patterson delivered more than 300 pounds of strawberries that were distributed across the school system. And when those ran out, the school system had another shipment scheduled from a farm it partners with near Raleigh. It’s these strawberries that are adding a splash of color to plates at Millbridge.

Regardless of where they came from, strawberry day is a popular one in the district, Hurley said. The fruit is sweet, colorful and lets kids eat with their hands. The fruit was an optional item at lunch Thursday, but made its way onto nearly every plate.

For some students, Hurley said, the farm-to-table partnership could be the first time students try certain foods. She remembered a fourth grader in the western part of the county who confessed he’d never had a strawberry.

“It sticks in my mind,” she said.

That student is one reason Hurley loves the fresh produce she’s able to help place on trays. Children develop their palate when they’re young, Hurley said, and what they eat now can impact the kinds of foods they’re drawn to later.

“It really opens up the door to how they receive food in their later years,” she said.

Schools will receive another shipment of food at the end of May, but the strawberries were the last shipment of farm-to-table produce for the year.

For the students, it’s a good treat to close out the year.

“They’re really good,” Sophia said.

 Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.

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