Across the country, schools are making an effort to feature local produce in the meals they serve. With the encouragement of the National Farm to School initiative, more than 124 districts in Michigan have stepped up to the plate. Those 124 districts connect 887 schools and 365,341 students with food that has been grown by local farmers, or in some cases, in the school’s backyard.
Traverse City Area Public Schools began to educate students from kindergarten to high school seniors about the locally grown foods which are helping to bring the farm to the table. Tom Freitas, Food and Nutrition Services Director at Traverse City Area Schools says, “We work with FoodCorps who integrates curriculum into several of our elementary buildings.”
“They also do food tastings at lunch time and have our children vote on how they like the food. We then menu much of that food so that our children can continue to get familiar with the new food.”
Getting students to eat healthy isn’t just about what they eat at school, it’s also about getting the parents and teachers involved in a healthy eating lifestyle. Freitas says, “Food Corps had open houses recently for the gardens at each of the schools to introduce the parents to the gardens. The staffs at all of our Food Corps buildings have completely embraced Food Corps in their classrooms. All of our buildings encourage us to continue to grow our local programs.”
He continues to say that the most effective way that the Traverse City Area Public Schools have found to incorporate this program in the school is to have a local company, Cherry Capital Foods, deliver the local produce. Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan also runs a Farm to Freezer program that delivers frozen locally-grown produce. Freitas says that his schools have been working with them to freeze tomatoes for use in a marinara sauce that tested well among students. “[This] allows us to maximize the buying season for tomatoes. We will continue to expand that concept in the future with more recipes.”
Bringing the farm to schools isn't just about local produce. “[Goodwill Industries] will also be baking local breakfast breads for us next year with Michigan Flour.”
He adds that the school district has been lucky in getting local farmers to deliver produce to schools, and the community response has been positive as, the program continues to create jobs in the area, while encouraging people to buy local produce.
In addition to local farmers, school food service distributors can help assist with locating and serving local produce. As a Gordon Food Service customer, the Traverse City Area Public Schools have access to the NearBuy program, which helps customers identify products from local farms and companies. “By updating that information on our webpage, the community knows how we are helping Michigan,” Freitas says, “We purchase a lot of sliced apples from Peterson Farms. Those apples are part of the Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which greatly reduces the cost and helps us with more cost-effective menu planning.”
Overall, the impact of Farm to School goes beyond financial. He says, “I guess what I am most proud of is that our staff and community embraces buying local and are 100 percent committed to continuing the growth of our programs.”
How did your state or district rank in the Farm-to-School Census during the 2012-2013 school year? Find out by viewing the Farm to School Census or contact your Gordon Food Service Customer Development Specialist for more information on NearBuy and other tools that can help you bring the farm to your school.