Kale Chips for 8,000 and Other Farm-to-School Successes

A version of this article originally appeared on The Huffington Post Green on October 14, 2013

The real food deliciousness of Farm to School efforts benefits everyone: The farmers and ranchers who grow food for local districts, school nutrition directors who know exactly where their food comes from, and – most of all – millions of students who enjoy fresh food right on their school trays.

The three pillars of a sustainable farm to school program are generally seen as Cafeteria, Classroom and Community. But there is fourth, equally important C – Champions! Successful farm to school programs are started, nurtured and harvested by champions at every step from the field to table. Here’s how three directors – three very cool school lunch dudes – from Maine to Montana are growing impressive farm to school numbers.

Thanks to Nutrition Services director Tyler Goodwin, students in the Wells-Ogunquit Community School District on the coast of southern Maine have a personal relationship produce on their lunch trays. It comes from the Spiller Farm, just two miles down the road and students help to pick it, clean it and prepare it. During September 2013 trips to the farm, hundreds of school kids picked 15 bushels (450 pounds) of green beans, 18 bushels (900 pounds) of red potatoes and 15 bushels (720 pounds) of apples (enough to supply the entire District for the next several months).

Maine student pick produce in local fields

Maine student pick produce in local fields

In fall 2013, Chef Tyler froze 10 bushels of carrots, also picked by student helpers. The final yield was 450 pounds of freshly picked, lightly steamed, very local frozen carrots for winter meals like veggie stir-fry, peas-n-carrots and candied carrots. Total time from field to freezer was less than four days, with a substantial decrease in overall carbon footprint. The environmental impact is important to the district’s Green Team, headed by 7th grade science teacher Saul Lindauer. The team is learning about and working to support centuries of farming heritage in Wells. According to Goodwin, fresh local produce makes a real difference in cafeterias too. “What I have noticed in all schools is healthier choices being made, kids are automatically selecting the required fruit or vegetable with lunch, and less waste than last year,” he reports.

Deep in the apple orchards of Central Michigan, Dan Gorman, Food Service Director in Montague/Whitehall Schools focused on some big farm to school numbers too – world record numbers in this case! On October 24, 2013, he and the districts’ 4,000 students – plus at least 14,000 more in Muskegon County – regained the World Record for the “most people simultaneously eating an apple at one time.” Muskegon County held the world record (9,329) until last May when children in New Zealand schools upped it to 17,064 with the help of an apple company. Now the Michigan apple crunchers are back on top of the world record with 19,087!!

Michigan students love their apples!!

Whitehall, Michigan, students love their apples!!

Promoting healthy snacking, supporting local agriculture and generating record-breaking excitement are just some of Dan’s everyday efforts to bring fresh, local food to kids. When he switched the district’s milk contract to a local dairy that raises its own cows and crops, the farm was able to hire four new workers. In the elementary cafeterias, monthly Harvest Days highlight Michigan fruits, vegetables and herbs. Students get to touch, smell and taste fresh items with their lunch, guided by an adult community member or high school mentor. As chair of the 1 in 21 Education Committee, Gorman is – as always – focused on a much bigger goal. “Going for a world record is as American as apple pie, but the more important goal is making Muskegon county the healthiest county in Michigan by 2021,” he says.

Now, about the kale chips for 8,000: It happened for the second time on October 2, 2013, to celebrate National Kale Day in Missoula County Public Schools, Montana. In 2012, on a ‘dare’ from Jason Mandela of the PEAS (Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society) Farm, Food and Nutrition Supervisor Ed Christensen offered baked kale chips to every student in the district. While not shy about saying his kale chips are “the best,” Ed was impressed by how much the kids liked them. “It’s really pretty simple,” he says. “We use freshly picked kale, toss it with oil, sprinkle with a little salt, and bake slowly.” While olive oil adds nutty flavor and USDA commodity oil works fine, Christensen also likes to use Montana-grown safflower on his kale chips.

Ed Christensen makes kale chips for 8,000

Ed Christensen makes kale chips for 8,000

Kale is big on Christensen’s local veggie list because it’s so hardy, often the last thing harvested from the PEAS Farm. Chips are a great way to serve kale because they are like potato chips to kids. On a recent ‘smack down’ with a tasty raw kale salad, the crunchy chips won hands down. During this year’s Kale-abration, Ed saw savvy 3rd graders crushing the chips onto their pizza. About that pizza, the crust is 100 percent scratch, whole grain made with local Wheat Montana Prairie Gold flour and turkey pepperoni. Missoula schools are currently developing a scratch sauce to incorporate house-grown onions and herbs. Clearly Ed wants to do farm to school as many ways as possible – in a place with a growing season of about four months!!

Being a school nutrition director is a tough enough job without adding all the extra details of a farm to school program. Despite the demands, thousands of directors across the U.S. have stepped up to the plate — or lunch tray — to do what Tyler, Dan and Ed do in their districts. Why? So students can have the freshest, best tasting, most nutritious meals possible and be fit, well-nourished and ready to succeed.

Follow Dayle Hayes, MS, RD on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SchoolMealsRock

Eat. Play. Learn. V is for VEGETABLES

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

V is for VEGETABLES

Yesterday several friends sent me a nice meme of children in a garden with the words: “Share this if you think every school should have a garden” Of course, I think that every school should have a garden! I also believe that VEGETABLES fresh from the garden are perhaps the best way to get kids eating more produce – and I am quite certain that garden-based learning is one of the best way to teach nutrition.

However, I have also visited dozens of school gardens and greenhouses – filled with a variety of VEGETABLES at all times of the year – and I know for a fact that successful school gardens take a lot of hard, every day work. There is planning, teaching, planting, teaching, weeding, teaching and harvesting and then teaching some more.

True, there are tons of school garden resources (some of my favorites are listed below). And, in many states, there are even grants – but it still takes an amazing number of dedicated green thumbs to make a school garden grow VEGETABLES for hungry kids. As my friend Alyssa Densham says, “School gardens don’t grown themselves!”

Some of these school garden resources may be more appropriate for certain parts of the country than others. Check them out with these quick links:

Every successful school garden is the work of many green thumbs

Every successful school garden is the work of many green thumbs

Eat. Play. Learn. Q is QUINOA.

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

Q is for QUINOA

There weren’t too many competitors for the Q word – and QUINOA has been popular in school breakfast and lunches as well as homes across the country. The versatile, gluten-free ‘pseudocereal’ is actually related to beets, spinach and tumbleweeds.

QUINOA is served in Provo (Utah) Public Schools as Black Bean, Corn and QUINOA Salad and in Windham-Raymond (Maine) Schools in a made-from-scratch Vegetable QUINOA Soup. The new cookbook from Vermont FEED – New School Cuisine Nutritious and Seasonal Recipes for School Cooks by School Cooks – features several yummy QUINOA recipes, including one for Carrot and QUINOA Muffins.

This recipe has been served Corvallis (OR) Farm to School events – and was recently very popular at a Corvallis High School Wellness event. In schools from coast to coast, students get to eat – and learn about – the hottest culinary and nutrition trends.

Corvallis (OR) Farm to School, Carrot, Black Bean, and Quinoa Wraps

Eat. Play. Learn. K is for KALE

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

K is for KALE

This blog series has been less food-focused that much of my writing – since the goal was to explore more broadly on the connections between academic/school success and overall nutrition/fitness. I want to talk here about kale in a broader ‘symbolic’ sense than about it’s nutrient values or trendy culinary reputation. Although I do have to admit that a vegetable with its own national celebration is pretty cool – more at National Kale Day (where you can now download your own Kale Hero Kit!).

Kale is a hardy and versatile veggie. It’s a successful outdoors in southern winters and a grows great in northern greenhouses during the cold months as well (the photo below is a January posting from FoodCorps Massachusetts). This means that kale is perfect for school year gardens where it gives many children their first taste of dark green leaves. It is versatile in the kitchen – delicious raw in salads, cooked in soups and perhaps, most importantly, as the surprisingly crispy and popular kale chip. An article in the Huffington Post – Kale: Benefits Beyond Nutrition – got me thinking about how much this humble green is helping children learn about growing, preparing and enjoying new foods. Kale is a combination of the ultimate local food – and the gateway to a whole nutrition world.

For more about kale chips in schools, please read my HuffPo article on Kale Chips for 8,000 and Other Farm-to-school Successes by the Numbers.

FoodCorps Massachusetts at the Food Project

FoodCorps Massachusetts at the Food Project

Eat. Play. Learn. G is for GARDEN

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

G is for GARDEN

It this point in the cold winter, it warms my heart to think about school gardens. Of course, I also get a envious when I see Florida school gardens that are green and lush when the snow is nearly a foot deep in Montana!

Why include gardens in talking about the learning connection? Students can learn all sorts of things in a school garden – botany, biology, chemistry, ecology and math to name a few. Growing food also provides the most direct, tangible connection to nutrition. I often say, if they grow it, they will eat it – there really is no better way to teach healthy eating habits than in a garden.

Here are four photos to represent the diversity and similarities of school gardens in the USA – just looking at them makes spring a little bit closer!

February 2014: Mrs. Donna Stoddard's 2nd grade class in Read-Pattillo Elementary, New Smyrna Beach (FL) are growing kale, radishes, sunflowers, parsley, cilantro, peas, sweet onions, carrots, kohlrabi, potatoes and green peppers in their school garden! Lucky students!

February 2014: Mrs. Donna Stoddard’s 2nd grade class in Read-Pattillo Elementary, New Smyrna Beach (FL) are growing kale, radishes, sunflowers, parsley, cilantro, peas, sweet onions, carrots, kohlrabi, potatoes and green peppers in their school garden! Lucky students! Thanks Fresh for Florida Kids!

June 2014: Alaska Elementary School Garden, Thanks Alaska Farm to School!

June 2013: Alaska Elementary School Garden, Thanks Alaska Farm to School!

March 2013: AMAZING lettuce planted, grown and harvested in the "Garden of Learning," Gary A Knox Elementary School, Crane, Arizona

March 2013: AMAZING lettuce planted, grown and harvested in the “Garden of Learning,” Gary A Knox Elementary School, Crane, Arizona

April 2012: University City High School Garden, Philadelphia, PA, an oasis in the middle of the city and my favorite urban school garden.

April 2012: University City High School Garden, Philadelphia, PA, an oasis in the middle of the city and my favorite urban school garden.

Six Back-to-School Lunch Spots: Where I would take Julia Child for a bite (Part 1, Western states)

As a devoted fan of Julia Child since the days of the earliest days of The French Chef on black and white TV, I know that she was always a culinary and educational trendsetter. Back in 1995, she was a co-founder of Days of Taste®, a national discovery-based program of The American Institute of Wine & Food for 4th and 5th graders. “In this age of fast and frozen food, we want to teach school children about real food – where it is grown and how it is produced – so that they can develop an understanding and appreciation of how good food is supposed to taste.”

Last week was the 101st anniversary of Julia Child’s birth – an event that I always honor personally and professionally. As I was updating the daily entries on School Meals That Rock, I realized how much Julia Child would love to see the very real revolution that has take place in school meals. Fresh, local, lovingly prepared and beautifully served breakfasts, lunches, snacks and even suppers are served across the USA, not just in a few foodie enclaves like Portland (OR) and Berkeley (CA), but in a wide range of school nutrition programs with a real commitment to good food for hungry students.

If I could do some culinary time travel and take Julia to lunch, as Bob Spitz was lucky enough to do in Dearie, here are six school cafeteria hot spots we would hit in the Western states. These schools vary widely in location, demographics and staff training, but all have one thing in common: They are among the growing trend of districts dedicated to serving made-from-scratch food, supporting local farmers and ranchers, and teaching children how good food tastes.

Image

Lake Stevens, Washington, Mollie Langum, Nutrition Supervisor

Mollie and her staff are true farm-to-table champions, as showcased in their “I Made A Rainbow at the Salad Bar” event. Washington-grown produce is not just for special occasions though; it’s an every day item in Lake Stevens cafeterias (just east of the metro Seattle area). With the right kind of “peer pressure,” students help promote produce, with giant strawberry costumes and as 5th grade fruit/veggie ambassadors.

ImageBethel, Oregon, Jennie Kolpak, RD, Nutrition Supervisor

Down I 5, in Eugene, Oregon, Jennie has developed a very impressive Harvest-of-the-Month program. Willamette Valley apples, pears, melons, carrots, bok choy and more show up on Bethel menus. This made-to-order Willamette High School panini with balsamic marinated veggies is just one delicious example. This year, they are going “hyper-local” with a new commercial size greenhouse on school grounds.

ImageSolvang, California, Chef Bethany Markee, Viking Café

Trading fine dining for a cafeteria, Bethany leads a Central California school food revolution – as this Honey Roasted Organic Fennel for the salad bar clearly shows. Thanks to a partnership with Santa Ynez Valley Fruit and Vegetable Rescue, the Viking Café is able to regularly serve fresh, organic produce and thanks to a new school herb garden, the seasonings will soon be very local as well.

ImageChandler, Arizona, Catherine Giza, Director and Wes Delbridge, RD, Supervisor

I bet Julia would appreciate the high-tech side of this large multi-cultural district with its trend-setting iPhone app. And, I know that she would be equally impressed with their personal touch on the 250 hand-tossed pizzas with whole grain, made-from-scratch dough and homemade marinara sauce!

ImageProvo, Utah, Jenilee McComb, Director and Colleen Dietz, Assistant

Breakfast or lunch, Provo’s cafeterias serve freshly prepared, locally sourced meals to the lucky students in this mid-size district just south of Salt Lake City. The school nutrition professionals in each school take justifiable pride in their award-winning program and the Facebook page proudly lists the farms and farmers who grow food for their kitchen. Provo students know where their food comes from!

ImageEnnis, Montana, Tammy Wham, Director and Natasha Hegmann, FoodCorps

It might take us a bit longer to get to Ennis, a southwestern Montana community of less than 1,000 with about 400 students K-12. However, I can guarantee that it would be worth the drive! Tammy and her cooks make nearly everything from scratch and thanks to Montana FoodCorps they now have a greenhouse and school garden (with club and summer camp) for incredible, edible produce year-round!

School Meals Rock Nutrition Trends: Way Ahead on Whole Grains

According to the National Restaurant Association 2013 What’s Hot culinary forecast, Whole Grains in Kids Meals ranks number 10 in the Top Ten Trends for 2013 by American Culinary Federation. Child nutrition issues also hits the number 3 and 5 spots on the NRA list.

Child Nutrition hits 3 of 10 Top Trends for 2013

Child Nutrition hits 3 of 10 Top Trends for 2013

When it comes to whole grains, schools are really cooking on all burners and in ovens from coast-to-coast. From all the evidence I see, schools are way out in front of most restaurant meals when it comes to kid-appealing whole grains. While schools nutrition programs have been gradually adding more whole grains for years, the new USDA Meal Patterns mandated by the 2010 Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act for really accelerated the process, especially in the past two years. Just think of this – starting in July 2014, ALL grains served in school breakfast and lunch meals must be whole-grain rich.

An article in the May 2013 issue of the School Nutrition Association magazine highlights that creative and delicious ways that school nutrition professionals have responded to the challenge of adding whole grains to children’s meals. Several of my favorite school nutrition heroes are featured, including Doris Demers, the director in Oyster River, New Hampshire.

SNA Magazine , May 2013

SNA Magazine , May 2013

My favorite example of Doris’s creativity with whole grains in this school lunch from January 2013. The Beef Stew (made with local grass-fed beef and local root vegetables) is served in a made-from-scratch mini-bread bowl. How cool is that!!

Oyster River, NH, Beef Stew, January 2013

Oyster River, NH, Beef Stew, January 2013

I could go on-and-on-and-on with photos of whole grain pizza crusts, entrees served over brown rise and whole grain pasta, and salads made with quinoa, barley and other more “exotic” grains – so little space, so much whole grain goodness. However, it is also important to note that food manufacturers have also make a whole lot of changes to their school-focused products so that children are able to enjoy whole grains in foods they love, like waffles, sandwich buns, and pizza crust. Here are just two examples of the products that I saw while visiting Ohio schools last week.

Mini-waffles served for Breakfast in the Classroom, Reynoldsburg, OH

Mini-waffles served for Breakfast in the Classroom, Reynoldsburg, OH

Beef Sliders served on whole grain buns from a local commercial bakery, Pinkerington, OH

Beef Sliders served on whole grain buns from a local commercial bakery, Pinkerington, OH

I have to post one more example of whole grains from Douglas County School District in Colorado. Director Brent Craig and Chef Jason Morse are doing a great grain job, like this Roasted Veggie Pizza on a commercial whole grain crust with balsamic glaze. Like I said, schools a way out in front on this trend!!

Whole Grain Pizza from Douglas County, CO

Whole Grain Pizza from Douglas County, CO