Fresh School Garden Produce Inspires New Menu Options

As the harvest season comes to an end and Farm to School Month approaches, Southampton Union Free School District (NY) school gardens final crops are producing  various squash and pumpkins for school meals. To ensure her students have access to healthy, fresh ingredients and nutritious new menu options throughout the whole school year, district Food Service Director Regan Kiembock works with a number of local farmers as well.21192762_1863359707014577_4104292490504018530_n

The district’s impressive garden is organized by the Southampton School Garden Committee and is funded through a number of grants. Since produce is regularly used in school meals, funds are set aside from the school lunch fund to buy supplies as needed. Nearby Cornell Cooperative Extension also helps support the gardening efforts with free seeds in the spring. Items grown in the school garden include a wide variety of lettuce, along with asparagus, onions, squashes, pumpkins, raspberries, kale, peas, garlic, herbs, tomatoes, beets and carrots.

To supplement the successful school garden, local farmers and parents donate to the school menus’ growing list of fresh produce and ingredients. To replenish their supply, Kiembock sources local tomatoes and potatoes and get apples delivered from a nearby farmer.

A garden club is led by the science teacher, who helps with the planting and harvesting of produce.  The family and consumer sciences teacher helps create recipes utilizing produce from the garden. Some student favorite recipes include cheese pumpkin muffins, sautéed asparagus, and a popular kale/garden greens salad with dried fruit, local apples and a homemade lemon honey dressing. Both teachers work with parent volunteers and Kiembock to help make the experience nutritionally educational and fun for students.

An intensive chef-led training program, called the Chefs Brigaid, will also be teaching Southampton Union Free SD nutrition staff how to include more wholesome, scratch-cooked food in their cafeterias. The professional chef will work in district for 55 days this year, incorporating new recipes into Southampton’s menus that fit within National School Lunch Program nutritional requirements. Training curriculum for staff includes building clean, well organized kitchens; maintain high safety and quality standards; and learning to cook more easily with a variety of raw, whole ingredients.

Kiembock is excited to have her food service and nutrition staff use new culinary skills gained over this school year and incorporate even more of their locally sourced produce into school meals across the district.

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