PITTSTON — Students and staff members at Pittston Consolidated School received a grant Thursday from central Maine dairy farmers to promote more healthful eating and exercise.

The $1,400 grant from the Fuel Up to Play 60 program will enable the school to buy equipment for its playground, kitchen and physical education program as well as supplies for a new nutritional program. The equipment will be used by a volunteer from the University of Maine’s Food Corps program who will visit the school each week for the rest of the year to provide education in eating healthfully.

Principal Donna Tardif said the volunteer will be at the school one day of the week for the remainder of the school year, working with students in all grade levels. The lessons will focus on healthful eating and give tips for physical activity that can be carried out inside on days that weather does not allow the students to get outside.

Pittston Consolidated School has worked with Fuel Up to Play 60 for a number of years and has received similar grants in the past. Last year the students built and marked walking trails on the school property.

Tardif said the Fuel Up program addresses crucial issues of nutrition and physical activity. Pittston students are becoming culinary explorers, daring to try new, healthful foods and incorporate them into their diets. The school recently held a program called “Easy to be Cheesy,” which allowed them to try uncommon cheeses.

“Our students are really good about knowing what is healthy,” Tardif said.

Launched by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Fuel Up to Play 60 is an in-school nutrition and physical activity program aimed at encouraging students to eat a healthful mix of low-fat dairy products, fruit, vegetables and grains and to get in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

Pittston was one of four schools in the state selected for a grant during the June funding period. Oak Hill Middle School in Wales and schools in the Aroostook and Washington county towns of Van Buren and Baileyville received similar grants.

The schools were selected from the applicants who submitted proposals to the Maine Dairy & Nutrition Council, which administers the Fuel Up program for the state. Staff members submit the applications, but the ideas for spending the money are generated by the students, said Katie Hoffman, school program manager for the council.

The money comes from the dairy check-off program, which is funded by farmers across the country who contribute 15 cents per hundredweight of milk they produce. The money is used to promote dairy products.

“It’s a deduction we take on the milk we produce,” said Jenni Tilton-Flood, of the Flood Brothers Farm in Clinton.

Tilton-Flood said the Fuel Up program has helped build connections between the school and area farmers. Last year students from every grade level visited one of three farms, including the Flood Brothers and The Wright Place farms in Clinton and the Woodside Farm in Sidney.

“It was such a rich experience to hear the science behind it all,” Tardif said.

Fifth-graders Tommy Murphy and Casey Paul visited The Wright Place, where, in addition to learning the ins and outs of milk production, they saw a calf moments after it was born.

“I thought it was cool,” Murphy said.

Paul was most impressed with the farmers’ work ethic.

“They have to get up really early,” he said.

Tilton-Flood said those experiences are increasingly important as the public becomes more detached from its food source. Just 2 percent of the American population is engaged in food production, Tilton-Flood said, and 85 percent of Americans are at least three generations removed from living in a farming community.

“We want to bridge that gap,” she said. “We all want to connect to the things that are important to us, and food is very important to us.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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