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FoodCorps Diaries: National Farm To School Month

A look back as we gear up for October

Healthy Food, Farm to School, FoodCorps | September 27, 2012 | By Daniel Marbury and Kirsten Gerbatsch

About FoodCorps

FoodCorps is a nationwide team of leaders that connects kids to real food and helps them grow up healthy.

They do that by placing motivated leaders in limited-resource communities for a year of public service. Working under the direction of local partner organizations, the program implements a three-ingredient recipe for healthy kids.  Service members:

► Teach kids about what healthy food is and where it comes from

► Build and tend school gardens

► Bring high-quality local food into public school cafeterias

Learn more about FoodCorps

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Check out the great things that have been happening through FoodCorps Northwest Michigan, a project of the Michigan Land Use Institute. FoodCorps Service Members Daniel Marbury and Kirsten Gerbatsch are helping a pilot group of six schools in our region to purchase and serve high-quality, locally grown food; build school garden programs; and connect students to healthy food and the local farmers that grow it. Today's post: National Farm To School Month is here. Daniel and Kirsten look back at last year’s celebration as they gear up for another busy month.

Daniel Marbury helps third-graders at Suttons Bay Elementary connect Michigan-grown Delicata Squash to math concepts as they practice weighing with scales and metric units.

As FoodCorps Service Members, National Farm to School Month is a very special time of year for us. Fortunately, in our positions we get to celebrate every day as an opportunity to teach healthy food education, to connect kids to their local food system, and to guide them in the joy of growing vegetables at school. We strive for 365 (technically more like 170) days of Farm to School every year. That being said, the energy and focus of National Farm to School Month generates a unique momentum to build stronger community around students’ positive experiences and food education, both in the classroom and cafeteria.

Last October we celebrated Farm to School Month at two schools in Leelanau County: Suttons Bay middle and high schools. Working with Food Service Coordinator Kirt Grow we featured a special northwest Michigan lunch including black bean chili with butternut squash, cornbread, and baked applesauce. Kirt’s excitement for our event was one of the most encouraging results of our efforts.  In preparing the new chili recipe, he enjoyed the challenge and ownership of cooking with new ingredients like squash and bulgur wheat. On the day of service he proudly offered us a sample of the chili, which had a warm balance of spices and flavor not typical of your average American lunchroom meal. He excitedly offered samples to other school staff who wandered through the cafeteria before lunch. They all responded with satisfied “Mmms” and genuine praise.

Kirt’s energy undoubtedly transferred to the students during lunch, helping them to be brave and try a chili that was far removed from the concoction that typically adorns hot dogs.  Students criticized the substitution of black beans for meat for protein, but responded positively to the dish overall.  Rippling out, the event created a buzz in the school community and prompted the elementary school kitchen leader, Jill Wahl, to request the opportunity to plan a Farm to School menu day for her kitchen as well.

In addition to the local lunch, students participated in a brand new “Gratitude for Food” Thanksgiving fundraiser selling farm fresh and locally made food products such as squash, apples, honey, and antibiotic-free pasture-raised turkeys. With about 40 high school and middle school students participating, we reached almost $1,000 in sales. The profit generated was placed in a “Farm to School” fund to support class nutrition, cooking, and gardening activities. In connection to the fundraiser, Suttons Bay High School hosted a Fall Food Festival that served as a joyous culmination of Farm to School Month, bringing together farmers, chefs, parents, students, and volunteers to celebrate our Northwest Michigan agriculture and taste the local bounty.

This year our goal for National Farm to School Month, and naturally, our whole year with FoodCorps, continues to focus on building community through delicious local lunches; fostering strong relationships between farmers, chefs, and schools; and creating classroom activities that engage students with food, gardening, and healthy lifestyles. On the menu for October are farmer visits, food systems lessons, and garlic planting in the garden. For the year we plan to work closely with teachers and food service directors to help create real, lasting change within the schools we serve. It’s going to be a great year!

Kirsten Gerbatsch, above, serving tasting samples of Michigan roasted grown butternut squash to students in the cafeteria at Suttons Bay Elementary School. All students have the opportunity to taste the locally grown and healthy food samples and then vote on their favorites.

*This article originally appeared on the National Farm To School Month website on Aug. 30, 2012

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