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Friday, March 16, 2012

Farm to School: Education and Outreach

By Stephanie Heim, Minnesota State Lead

Minnesota schools are doing some amazing things to engage their students and the community in farm to school activities. Below is just a sampling from schools across the state. If you have an educational or outreach activity that you’d like to share, please send an email to

Pine Point School

Pine Point School students, in conjunction with the 21st century after-school program, are learning about local food systems. They have taken trips to visit a wild rice mill, apple orchard, and a heritage turkey farm, learning about where each of these foods comes from and talking with the growers. The fourth grade class spent a week focusing on mandaamin (corn). In the classroom, they wrote haiku poems and learned about seasonal food. Outside the classroom, they went to help harvest native Bear Island Flint corn and learn its significance for Ojibwe people. Students were later taught how to braid the corn to properly dry it for storage. In winter, Pine Point began traditional cooking classes with community members and decorated the school cafeteria with Ojibwe art and vocabulary. It is Pine Point’s hope that relocalizing our food system and reintroducing traditional foods will create not only healthier children, but a healthier community. Read about Pine Point's 2009 farm to school events: Pine Point 2009 Farm to School Brief Report (271 K PDF).

Ridgeway Community School

Ridgeway Community School created a poster to promote their farm to school efforts: Why We Choose Food from Farmers We Know (126 K PDF). Here are several outreach tips they use with their students, parents, and community:
  1. Conduct a morning meeting of student body to inform them of the local food being serving.
  2. Put an announcement in the school newsletter. For example, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Real Food (383 K PDF).
  3. On the monthly menu, make note of farm to school foods.
  4. Place a bulletin board in a prominent location with photos and captions.
  5. Use a display board for community events and conferences.
  6. At school programs, make note of your farm to school initiative to reach families and increase their awareness of your good work.
  7. Use radio and print media (agriculture, local papers) — they love to pick up farm to school stories.
  8. Prepare a presentation and update for the school board.
  9. Start informal conversations with anyone and everyone!

Wadena Deer Creek Elementary

As part of the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, Wadena Deer Creek Elementary invited Minnesota Grown Spokesperson and Minnesota Olympian Carrie Tollefson to connect with students about the benefits of eating locally grown fruits and vegetables and staying active. Learn more: Olympian runner inspires WDC students (274 K PDF).

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Farm to School: Taste Testing

Stephanie Heim, Minnesota State Lead

Red Lake, St. Cloud, Wadena Deer Creek, Willmar, Little Falls, Morris and other schools have found great success with tasting events. Taste tests encourage students to use all of their senses to explore fruits, vegetables, and other farm to school foods.

Morris Area Schools has offered apple and wild rice tastings among others. Students tasted two different apples — Harral Red and Sweet 16. Staff found two-thirds of the students picked the sweeter, Sweet 16 apple as their favorite.

Red Lake partnered with an educator from Extension to lead tasting lessons as part of the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program. Tasting lessons were popular among students and staff alike. Below is feedback Willie Larson and Josh Hovde, school nutrition coordinators, received from a Red Lake teacher.
“The kids loved the green beans today. We did a mini-lesson and I admit I was eating a bean while I gave the lesson. The kids could hear the crunch of the bean and knew they were fresh and thought it was neat when they also hear the 'squeak' when we would bite down. This was also a sign of how fresh they beans were. We talked about the color and that the purple or darker color on the beans were showing they were 'full' of healthy vitamins. They each got to 'taste' a bite of a bean — if they liked it they took the snack. All of my kids ate their beans and most didn’t dunk them in Ranch!”
Repeated opportunities to taste and eat new and familiar foods is required to increase acceptance and intake. Some say that classroom and cafeteria taste testing creates positive peer pressure. If your friend is willing to try the rutabaga, why wouldn’t you? Classroom and cafeteria taste tests encourage students to eat farm to school foods in a supportive environment.

Who can lead a taste testing? Anyone — teachers, parents, foodservice staff, students, and SNAP-Ed educators can all lead a taste testing.

Who are SNAP-Ed educators? SNAP-Ed educators from the University of Minnesota Extension teach students and families the information and skills to maintain healthy diets. They can partner with qualifying Minnesota schools at no cost to lead taste testings and other fun, hands-on nutrition education classes.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Getting Started with Farm to School: Get Staff on Board

By Stephanie Heim, Minnesota State Lead

Any type of change requires extra effort within the school. Advance planning is important to make it easier for everyone involved to feel comfortable and support the farm to school initiative. It is not possible to over-communicate!

By educating and involving others, you can create excitement about the farm to school foods being offered in the cafeteria. Teachers are needed to ensure that students are provided the opportunity to learn more about the food they are eating, where it comes from and how to improve their choices. You may need to help teachers find educational resources that would be useful. In addition, foodservice staff may need more information or skills to be successful. Perhaps training on knife skills or more information about the products they are receiving would be helpful.

Plan with Your Staff

We encourage you to involve cooks and other foodservice staff in the planning process. The Willmar School District schedules a two-hour, hands-on meeting in late spring with head cooks and staff to test potential farm to school recipes.

Below are preparations that Annette Derouin, Food Service Director of Willmar Public Schools makes for this meeting:
  • She works with the head cook at the host school to make sure that all necessary ingredients are stocked.
  • Copies are made of each farm to school recipe being considered for the next school year; both a small-scale "home" version to be tested and a scaled-up food service version for staff to read.
  • Stations are set up in the kitchen on the meeting day; each station includes a recipe and the ingredients and equipment needed to prepare that recipe. Staff members choose the station where they want to work.
  • Staff members prepare the recipe at their station and set the results out for sampling. All staff members taste the results of each recipe and evaluate it for ease of preparation, tastiness, and so on.

Train Your Staff

It’s really important to train cooks and cafeteria workers on how to offer new farm to school foods to students. Staff should not communicate their own biases about new foods to students. Staff should be willing to give foods more than one chance to be accepted by students. Multiple exposures to new foods are needed to increase acceptance and intake among students.

At Little Falls Community Schools, foodservice staff felt supported as they were given information and preparation techniques early on just as their farm to school initiative was getting started. After the positive student feedback started rolling in, staff embraced the changes.

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