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FoodCorps Diaries: Farm To School Month a Success

'Rainbow' salads, hoophouses

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Students sample the colorful salad bar full of local vegetables grown by farmers at Lutz Farm and 9 Bean Rows.

October was designated National Farm to School Month by Congress just two years ago to highlight the importance of Farm to School programs as a way to improve child nutrition, support local economies, and educate children about the origins of food. This year, MLUI's FoodCorps Service Members Daniel Marbury and Kirsten Gerbatsch assisted six schools in Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Antrim and Benzie counties to celebrate National Farm to School Month with classroom, lunchroom, and garden activities. Students experienced a direct connection to the local food system by eating a variety of northwest Michigan fruits and vegetables in their cafeterias.

Rainbows Fresh from the Farm

We kicked off National Farm to School Month with a special “Rainbow Day” at Traverse Heights Elementary School. We partnered with TCAPS food service staffers and local children’s book author Dick Evans for a reading of his book, “Discover the Magic of Rainbows,” for first and second grade students. The book took the children on a journey to a farm where a whole rainbow of fruits and vegetables were growing. We also teamed up with the school’s head cook Ms. Jill Johnson to prepare beautiful arrangements of fresh vegetables; broccoli and yellow cauliflower from Calvin Lutz Farm in Kaleva were laid out on the salad bar along with a blend of mixed greens from farmer Nic Welty, of Nine Bean Rows in Northport.

A Traverse Heights Elementary School student serves up a Rainbow Salad.

We helped students to make a “rainbow salad” with a variety of colors, and students who finished their portion—many of which filled entire sections of their trays—were rewarded with special farmer collectible cards with details about Calvin Lutz Farm and Nine Bean Rows. Students embraced the celebration and excitement, commenting that the salad bar looked “beautiful” or “really cool” and that the veggies were “so delicious.” They obviously tasted the local difference since most of their rainbow salads vanished into happy mouths. Just like rainbows, it is important to enjoy seasonal foods while they last!

Bare Knuckle, Clean Plates

At Northport Public School, students learned about our food system and the life cycles of vegetable plants. We planted several garden beds with garlic cloves and harvested the last of the garden produce, including carrots and kale. Food Service Director and head cook Janis Groomes served roasted winter squash grown by Northport farmer Jess Piskor, of Bare Knuckle Farm, in the lunchroom for all the students to try. The winter squash was such a hit that Janis purchased another 100 pounds from Bare Knuckle Farm for her Northport Thanksgiving lunch celebration in November. Students also had the opportunity to try carrots from Bare Knuckle Farm and mixed salad greens from Nic Welty, of 9 Bean Rows, on the salad bar.

Growing Even While the Weather Grows Cold

At Platte River Elementary, the school hoop house officially opened for business. With help from every class, we prepared the garden beds and planted lots of veggies: kale, rainbow chard, radishes, carrots, beets, snap peas, and spinach. Everyone is looking forward to our first harvest, which will be served in the lunchroom for all the students to enjoy.

Students at Platte River Elementary School join Kirsten in the school's hoop house to check on some seeds.

Toward the end of the month, we planted garlic gloves and flower bulbs for additional springtime color. But waiting for our food to grow didn’t keeping us from trying new fresh foods from Michigan soil! To celebrate our high hopes for a plentiful harvest, we sampled a party-style roasted-garlic black-bean dip with sweet, tender carrots from Second Spring Farm in Cedar and crisp broccoli from Calvin Lutz Farm in Kaleva.

Farm-raising for Education

Students from Central Lake Elementary launched their farm-to-community fundraiser for the 13th consecutive year, expanding the program from the fourth grade to include the entire upper elementary. Local farmers offered products at wholesale prices to students, who then resold the produce to family and community members to reduce field trip costs. Fourth grade students also experienced local farming with a visit to Duerksen Turkey Farm, Shetler Family Dairy, Rock Top Farms and Providence Farm where they learned about concepts like the conversion of live turkey weights to dressed weights, the nutrient cycle on a dairy pasture, the protection of  Lake Michigan from winter extremes, and the principles of organic farming. The next day, eight of our participating farmers visited the school for a special fundraiser product showcase and a taste test with the third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students.

Farmer Front and Center

We’d like to give special thanks to farmer Jim Bardenhagen, of Suttons Bay, for his partnership in connecting with a number of FoodCorps schools. Mr. Bardenhagen visited Suttons Bay Elementary personally to share the many different types of apples he grows, including Honey Crisp, Crimson Crisp, Ida Red, Gala, and Macintosh.

Jim Bardenhagen shares different varieties of apples that he grows with Suttons Bay Elementary students.

Students enthusiastically documented the different colors, shapes, sizes, and tastes that the different varieties offer. In the lunchroom, Mr. Bardenhagen’s winter squash and apples were served in a salad-bar taste test as a delicious Buttercup Squash and Apple Salad and he stayed to talk with students and to continue sharing samples of his apples. We also served cubed Buttercup Squash from Bardenhagen Farms roasted with either garlic or cinnamon apple slices at Platte River Elementary and Interlochen Elementary.

Rooted in History and Planting New Seeds

Mr. Bill Edwardson’s fourth- and fifth-grade social studies students learned about Native American food and agriculture through the Iroquois legend of the Three Sisters. The legend explores the tradition of growing and eating the three sisters—corn, squash, and beans—and at the end of class everyone sampled the dish. At the end of the school day, the students raved about the squash at lunch and in the Three Sisters dish.

To conclude National Farm to School Month, we celebrated Halloween with the second and third grade classes by starting seeds for our indoor hydroponic garden! We are looking forward to eating kale, rainbow chard, cilantro, and parsley grown in the hydro stackers through the winter months.

Daniel Marbury offers some local carrots and broccoli to dip in homemade hummus and black bean dip at Platte River Elementary.

We’d like to give a big thank you and congratulations to the farmers, teachers, volunteers, and food service directors who made this month a huge success in northwest Michigan and who dedicate their time year-round to teach kids about where food comes from and how to grow up healthy!

Even though October has come to end, we will continue to celebrate Farm to School everyday! Follow us on the MLUI FoodCorps Diary blog throughout the school year to learn about the exciting, delicious and nutritious local foods we are serving up in schools. 

1 Comment

4206 days ago, 7:44pm | by Nellie Eve | Report Comment

Foodcorps! You give me hope for the future! Thanks for the work you do!!!!

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