Fall harvest – husking corn in MN

Working together across the school community can make a big impact when it comes to initiating successful farm-to-school programs.

In Foley Public Schools, MN, director of food services Cheryl Pick, came together with agriculture education instruction Alan Stemper to bring the learning experience full circle – from seed to table — for students.

Beginning in the spring, a group of Foley High School agriculture students planted corn in a field about 3 miles outside the town and began to learn about the growing cycles of seasonal produce. Building raised beds at the school allowed students to have more hands-on involvement in the gardens on a regular basis too. Students plant everything from radishes, onion and peppers and even grow herbs for sauces and soups. The food is then harvested in the fall by students, and all of it goes back into the school nutrition department as produce to plan in school lunch menus.

Coming up with new and different ways to use produce is left to Cheryl and her team, who also utilize a significant amount of produce from local farmers in season. Some harvests, such as watermelon and cantaloupe, are simply cut and served fresh to students as part of their balanced lunch. Cheryl looks for new ways to incorporate veggies like green beans, zucchini, kohlrabi, cabbage and cucumbers onto menus that appeal to students’ tastes. She also looks for ways to stretch the season and maintain local produce on the menu long past harvest time. Keeping butternut squash in the fridge for winter menus, freezing local green peppers to be made in chili or dry storing potatoes for roasting have helped spread out the short growing season.

The district applied for and won a grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to purchase braising pans called tilting skillets – equipment that can make cooking soups, stir fry or sauces more efficient for feeding many students. Continuing to work on menus and get feedback through students tastings keeps the Foley Public Schools menus evolving and producing healthy new options each year!

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