As Sonny Perdue filled up his lunch tray Tuesday morning, he made sure to load up on the cucumbers.

The U.S. secretary of agriculture was visiting Verona’s Sugar Creek Elementary School in recognition of the school’s work on health and wellness activities, eating lunch with a group of fifth graders before leaving for Epplegaarden in Fitchburg for a tour and discussion with local farmers. Perdue was visiting Madison for the World Dairy Expo, and the trip to Sugar Creek was in recognition of the beginning of National Farm-to-School Month in October.

Sugar Creek principal Todd Brunner said it was “an incredible honor” for Sugar Creek to have the secretary there for lunch and questions from students. He said the school’s farm-to-school program is promoted to parents, but has been around for longer than many realize.

“Verona had been doing farm-to-school for years, just no one knew about it,” Brunner said. “It was just sort of the way it was happening.

“(This visit) is shining a spotlight on it, bringing awareness to it.”

Beyond farm-to-school, Brunner said the school has instituted many healthy habits and policies at school, from limiting snacks from home to adding physical activity programs like biking and snowshoeing units. The school was recognized in 2018 as a gold-level recipient of the Wisconsin School Health initiative.

Fifth-grader Orlando Hernandez said it was “cool” to have the secretary visit his school, and he’s glad to attend a school where he gets to know about the source of his food.

“Sometimes people will feel safer and that they can trust where it comes from,” Hernandez said.

Following a half hour meeting with local farmers and people involved with farm-to-school initiatives, Perdue told reporters it was “important for kids to know where our food comes from.”

“Our producers need to go into the schools and talk about this,” he said.

During his visit to Sugar Creek, Perdue answered questions from the school’s fourth-graders, ranging from what he does in his free time to what he is doing to help Wisconsin farmers. Fifth-grader Grace Wertz said it was “really nice” to meet Perdue and spend time talking with him.

“It’s cool to meet someone who has a really important job,” Wertz said.

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.