May 1 2013 07:01 AM

Students write essays to connect farming with their food.

This spring, Wisconsin's Ag in the Classroom program held an essay contest. Fourth and fifth grade students from across the state wrote one-page essays about "Wisconsin farms help me eat a healthy lunch by…"

There were prizes and incentives for participation. In the county where I volunteer, we provided gift cards to participating teachers for purchase of educational supplies, cash prizes for the winning essays, and an ice cream social for the entire classroom of the student with the winning essay. These incentives helped the county submit the most essays to the district this year.

However, agriculture is the real winner. Some students relayed facts they knew (or looked up) about Wisconsin's agriculture – from its state fruit to its leading economic statistics. A few shared stories of visiting a relative's farm, a school field trip to a dairy or what they observed in their own communities concerning farming. When future decision-makers can link a farmer on his tractor in the field to the food on their table, they have made an invaluable connection linking agriculture to their personal lives. They also see the complexity of the food chain and the economics needed to drive it.

The winning essay writer for my county tied many agricultural products together in her essay and made the connection of growing food, providing a healthy product and enjoying the great tasting results. Are the majority of consumers, of any age, making the connection that farms help them eat healthy?

We are sharing the winning county entry from 9-year-old, Zoe, as she reads her essay to her fourth grade class. As a nonfarm youth she connected the food dots. Let's hope others can make the connection, too.

Ag in the Classroom essay winner reading essay Wisconsin: What's Healthy in Your Lunch?

Wisconsin, what's healthy in your lunch? Me! I am a bright red, delicious, round cranberry and I have come right from Wisconsin. After all, Wisconsin is one of the nation's largest cranberry growers, In fact, I am the state fruit! But, I am not the only healthy food in your lunch that came from Wisconsin.

Wisconsin farms help me eat a healthy lunch by providing fresh fruit, but also dairy and vegetables. Look to your left. Do you see that block of Cheddar cheese? That was made just a few towns over on a local dairy farm. Wisconsin had lots of milk and cheese to choose from.

And look at that cold and refreshing carton of milk. Where do you think that came from? There are 12,000 licensed dairy farms in Wisconsin that produce over 33 percent of the cheeses and milk sold in the US per year. We aren't called the dairy state for nothing!

Look to your right. See that sweet golden ear of corn? It was grown right here in Wisconsin. In fact, it came to school today as part of a farm-to-school program by the local farmers. Local families make up 85% of farms in Wisconsin.

What's that hiding in the back of your lunchbox? Bright, juicy strawberries that you picked yourself at a strawberry farm. What else is healthy in your lunch? Look right in front of you. Just about everything you have in your lunch probably came from a farm right here in Wisconsin. All these are examples of how Wisconsin farms help me eat a healthy lunch every day.

So, look around Wisconsin and tell me…what's healthy in your lunch?

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The author is the online media manager and is responsible for the website, webinars and social media. A graduate of Modesto Junior College and Fresno State, she was raised on a California dairy and frequently blogs on youth programs and consumer issues.