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. M is for MICHIGAN

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.

M is for MICHIGAN

I’ve had the pleasure of participating in several Michigan healthy school events over the years and I am honored to be invited back in March (23-27) to present a series of four “First Fuel” School Breakfast Challenge trainings across the state. The Michigan goal is to have 60 percent or more of free/reduced lunch participants also eating a school breakfast by 2015. The recently released Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) 2014 School Breakfast Scorecard found reported that Michigan’s rate of school breakfast participation is 53 percent of lunch participation – an increase of 2 percent since 2010.

While the Michigan school breakfast goal is ambitious, they have strong support and the right partners for the job. At the Michigan Department of Education, support comes from the very top, since Superintendent Mike Flanagan is a strong and vocal advocate for school breakfast as the foundation for academic success. I know several other states that wish they had such a knowledgable and supportive state superintendent! Other active partners in the “First Fuel” School Breakfast Challenge include the Michigan Team Nutrition Program, which has a extensive reach on Twitter and Facebook, as well as Michigan Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Dairy Industries of Michigan who are offering $250,000 in grants for marketing and equipment. I am looking forward to being part of the Michigan work to insure that all children are well-nourished and ready to learn.

FRIST FUEL Promotes School Breakfast

FIRST FUEL Promotes School Breakfast

Eat. Play. Learn. H is for HUNGRY.

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.

H is for HUNGRY

When I hear that schools are closed for days in a row, my immediate thought is about what those children will eat when they do not have access to school meals. If children regularly come to school hungry, it means that they do not have access to food at home. And, when the weather is bad, their families may be even less able to shop for groceries or visit a food bank. Honestly, for millions of American children, a snow day may be a hungry day. Preliminary 2013 USDA data shows that an average of 18.9 million children ate a free school lunch daily and 10.1 million ate a school breakfast on average.

The numbers in the previous paragraph also tell another story as well – that is the enormous ‘breakfast gap’ of 8.8 million children who are eligible but are not receiving a free breakfast. These are the children who may to be too hungry to learn as reported in the deeply disturbing Hunger in Our Schools: Teachers Report 2013 by No Kid Hungry: Share Our Strength. If nearly 73 percent of teachers regular try to teach hungry children, we are a very serious educational problem in our schools. The simple fact is that hungry children cannot focus, concentrate and learn. School breakfast is one obvious solution and I applaud the administrators and educators who are ramping up their efforts to expand the program. Michigan State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan is is a true nutrition hero for promoting the “First Fuel” Breakfast Challenge in his state – and I am proud to be part of the Michigan Team Nutrition training for this effort. Too hungry to learn is unacceptable for any child in Michigan, Montana or any other US state.

SHARE OUR STRENGTH’S TEACHERS REPORT 2013

SHARE OUR STRENGTH’S
TEACHERS REPORT 2013

For a True School Nutrition Hero: A Letter of Reference

To Whom It May Concern:

It is with great pleasure that I write this letter of recommendation for Doreen Simonds, currently Manager for Nutrition Services in the Waterford, Michigan, School District. I have interviewed Doreen multiple times over the past several years and carefully followed her outstanding work in Waterford. Ms. Simonds’ program has been featured in many of my presentations, as well as in several pieces that I have written for the School Nutrition Association (SNA). These include the 2011 Make Fuel Up To Play 60 Work For Your School Nutrition Program toolkit and mostly recently a June 2012 article for SNA’s Magazine on Putting the Power of Fuel Up to Play 60 to Work for YOU.

Without a doubt, Doreen Simonds is a true school nutrition hero and one of the leading school nutrition directors in Michigan today. Any district would be lucky to have her unique combination of professional dedication, business savvy, and programmatic creativity. As 25+ year nutrition veteran in Waterford, she oversees school meals and other nutrition programs in twenty buildings for an enrollment of nearly 12,000 students – and with exceptional enthusiasm. Here are three of the many reasons that I recommend Doreen for a position in your district.

First, COMMITMENT to children: In Doreen’s world, it really is all about feeding hungry kids. In describing her first venture into USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) this year, she wrote: “We really pulled together the SFSP in a huge rush (we just applied to do it under a month ago). I felt compelled not to wait and did a huge push for it. Every time a mother comes up to me with tears in her eyes and says  “I don’t know what I was going to do this summer to feed my kids…thank you so much for doing this!”  I know the struggle was worth it!!!

Secondly, CREATIVITY in marketing: Everything that Doreen does is infused with creativity. Her talents, abilities, and 30+ years as a wedding photographer all come together in the positive brand she has created with the WSP Depot Cafe, its life-sized mascot Diggin Diesel, and the Tracker Tray Train, designed to help kids understand and enjoy all the components of nutritious, delicious school meals. It’s no wonder that Waterford’s maintains impressive levels of participation – and that Doreen’s district has been recognized with multiple HealthierUS School Challenge awards, as well as an invitation to celebrate with Michelle Obama on the lawn of the White House (Doreen is fourth from left).

Finally, COLLABORATION with others: Every time I talk to Doreen Simonds, I hear much more about the folks she works with than about her. This is a woman who clearly knows how to “play well with others.” She takes advantage of every opportunity to collaborate with other programs, like Michigan Team Nutrition and Fuel Up To Play 60. She is always eager to talk about how her successes are the result of others hard work: “In Mason Elementary, we have a teacher ‘champion’ who goes all the way, so we have 60 to 80 kids at the monthly meetings. We’ve seen a huge increase in breakfast and lunch participation – and their fruit intake is unbelievable! The kids have helped with taste tests, like whole grain waffles, and United Dairy Industries of Michigan provides super support and lots of wonderful materials.”

Seriously and sincerely, Doreen Simonds is a school nutrition hero and you want to have her on your team!   Dayle Hayes, MS, RD