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Growing connections with Guatemala: Delegation tours area schools

Deb Dilley, (right) Snap-Ed Educator of the Northeast Region, leads a garden tour Monday afternoon at Solway School. The tour was part of a Guatemalan Food Service delegation hosted by the University of Minnesota Extension. The tour included both the Bemidji and Kelliher Schools Food Service programs. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)

SOLWAY -- A group of eight Guatemalan state officials toured Minnesotan schools’ food services Monday to get ideas they can implement in their home country, making several stops in the Bemidji area.

Bemidji Area Schools district and University of Minnesota staff showed school gardens, “second chance” lunches, a new dinner program and more to representatives from the Guatemala’s ministries of education, finance and agriculture.

“We’re seeing if what’s being done here can be of any use to us, to apply it in Guatemala,” Noemi Isabel Solis Fuentes, who works in the country’s public finance ministry, said through an interpreter.

Mario Domingo Morales Mateo, director of strengthening the educational community, searches for a raspberry Monday afternoon.

Jeanette Bran Cibrian, who works in the Central American country’s education ministry, said schools there serve healthy meals, but that there’s not wide-ranging standards for school meals like those established by education departments here.

The tour is partly inspired by a proposed law making its way through the Guatemalan government that would apportion more money for in-school meals, especially in municipalities where students are at a higher risk for malnourishment. Tourers said the government invests 10 cents per student lunch there, compared to $1.50 per meal here.

“We haven’t had a law for the last 50 years,” said Mario Domingo Morales Mateo, who heads the ministry responsible for the technical aspects of school meal distribution throughout Guatemala. The new law would help keep up with inflation. “We do not have a school meal program.”

The delegation also was interested in linking local agriculture with school meals by buying foods from small farmers, much like Bemidji Area Schools’ “farm to school program.” They also hope to move away from high-sodium and processed foods.

“They want to utilize their local farmers to help their education system and help their community,” said Tammie Colley, the school district’s food and nutrition coordinator.

The tour had earlier visits in Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis. It also stopped by Kelliher Public Schools on Monday.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

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