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Price Lab integrates farm-to-school foods in lunches

Published: Thursday, April 22, 2010

Updated: Thursday, April 22, 2010 11:04


ANNA SCHRECK/Northern Iowan

Community members attended a workshop to learn more about farm-to-school possibilities and how such programs can benefit students.

A recent workshop sponsored by the Northern Iowa Food and Farm Partnership to put fresh local foods on the school lunch menus took place at Malcolm Price Laboratory School. Participants discussed continuing efforts by community members, food service directors and local farmers.

Tammy Stotts, marketing specialist for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, spoke at the workshop on the background and activities occurring within the farm-to-school program.

"The farm-to-school chapter system allows chapters to implement plans which suit their schools' needs and allows others around the state to learn from those experiences," said Stotts.

According to Stotts, the IDALS has been providing grant money to schools to implement the farm-to-school programs and has implemented three initiatives: Chapters, A is for Apple and Wrap Your Own – Iowa Grown. Approximately nine chapters have received $38,500 in funding, which has encompassed more than 20,150 students.

The farm-to-school assistance offers educational opportunities such as the purchasing of local fruits and vegetables, newsletters, fact sheets, Web site inclusion, school gardens, composting projects and local press releases, all of which bring community members and local farmers or growers together.

"The other initiatives (A is for Apple and Wrap your Own – Iowa Grown) is an opportunity for schools and local growers to work together in the hopes of establishing a mutually beneficial relationship, providing local food to school kids and giving farmers a new market for their products," Stotts said.

Stotts's hope for IDALS is to continue to seek growers, work on food safety and distribution, gain additional funding to support new chapters and continue the work of existing chapters.  

"We began the current farm-to-school program this past fall with grant money and brought in pears, watermelon, plums and strawberries," said Jacque Bilyeu-Holmes, Price Lab's Grassroots Cafe program manager.

"We try to source everything first: local first and then organic, then the remainer of the food from California. ... Apples, any fruit from local farms are organic.

"Primarily, we have foods from 10 local farmers," continued Bilyeu-Holmes. "All meat, chicken, eggs and milk are all local (as well as) fruits and vegetables, corn, potatoes, peppers and tomatoes."

According to Bilyeu-Holmes, the local foods are more time-consuming and labor-intensive to prepare and many kitchens have been bringing in people to show the correct way to cut the vegetables.

 "People like that we are going healthy with food that is not as processed and that parents don't have to make their kids lunch," said Bilyeu-Holmes. "They have option of vegetarian or chef salad every day and pita chips, Luna bars and dried fruit for older kids."

Additionally, Bilyeu-Holmes feels if the school teaches a kid how to eat healthy, this is something they take into adulthood and into their own families. There has been a new focus: first vending machines were eliminated, and now there is more of a drive to eliminate trans fat, dyes and any names of ingredients that are difficult to pronounce. 

"There's this American-ness that every meal there is a dessert … but dessert is really more of a treat. There's always a choice between fruits — the kids really appreciate the treat of ice cream then. … There's been a learning curve, but mostly agreeable."

Many teachers at school have been commenting that the kids are much calmer after lunch because of the new menu change. 

Initially, Price Lab did not have too much variety as cooks were learning how to cook and prepare the local foods. An international meal, which will be starting next month, allows input from all teachers; foreign language teachers are willing to contribute by translating the menu. With a little more variety, students can hear about eating healthily in a different way.

"I think realistically we will be around up to 50 percent of the food from local farmers," said Bilyeu-Holmes. "I think the goal is to keep on building on the current program and to keep putting more variety in the menu, be in the classrooms more and for the kids to be able to tell what healthy food is, be able to tell what organic foods are."

Rob Faux, a local farmer located northwest of Tripoli, has been able to offer potatoes for the farm-to-school program with hopes to expand to lettuce, squash and other items in the coming season.                                                              

"I would love to get fresh produce to the kids at schools — I want them to do well," Faux said.    

"The Genuine Faux Farm does not sell produce outside of a 50-mile radius of our farm," said Faux. "We believe in buying and selling local. At present, the only school with which we have a relationship to sell produce is Price Lab.

"There's a lot of interest in schools obtaining locally grown foods — it's growing, schools want to explore it and there is some grant money to explore," Faux said. "Though there are not enough growers to meet the demand, part of the reason is to get the expectations in line that you can't snap fingers and farmers line up. It takes work."

According to Faux, school demand is sufficiently large enough that it is likely a school will have to work with multiple farmers. But a one-to-one relationship could be an excellent way to begin the process.

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