Round Lake-Brewster hopes to offer students locally grown foodSchool seeks food growers for Farm to School programROUND LAKE — Starting this fall, Round Lake-Brewster students may notice something new on their plates at lunch time — fresh, locally-grown food.
ROUND LAKE — Starting this fall, Round Lake-Brewster students may notice something new on their plates at lunch time — fresh, locally-grown food.
The Round Lake-Brewster school district hopes to participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School program, which helps schools purchase products from local growers and farmers, allowing students to eat fresher and more nutritious food.
“For every dollar the school spends from a local producer, $300 stays in the local economy,” said Lori Romans, RL-B’s family and consumer science teacher. “It’s a good economic choice, but it’s also much more nutritious for kids.”
Romans has applied for grants and attended workshops about the Farm to School program in hopes of bringing it to Round Lake-Brewster in the fall. A $5,000 Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) grant was used to pay for the creation and implementation of the program’s policies and training requirements.
Generally, Farm to School begin with five locally grown items, including fruit and vegetables as well as other local options, such as buffalo meat, eggs, honey, sweet corn, cherry tomatoes or wild rice.
Many Farm to School programs begin with apples.
“It’s a program to get kids better meals, and to get away from the processed foods,” Romans said. “A lot of Farm to School is based on elementary schools getting the students used to eating fresh vegetables and quality vegetables, so when they’re going home, they’re going to ask for those things. Then, by the time they come to the high school, that’s just going to look like a normal plate to them.”
Romans intends to begin the program at the high school and expand it to the elementary school at a later date.
She may begin with apples, poultry, potatoes, cherry tomatoes and a fall vegetable, probably either squash or pumpkin. However, some springtime vegetables can be planted again in the fall, and Romans may ask local growers to consider planting broccoli or cauliflower as well.
Lori Romans RL-B FACS teacher
As part of the program, the growers will be featured on the school’s menu. For example, instead of being listed as simply “apples,” Romans would add the name of the orchard from which the apples came.
“A lot of people are wanting to reconnect with their food. They want to know where it comes from. They want to know their growers. We’ve heard so many recalls and people are scared,” Romans said. “They want to know that food is wholesome and healthy.”
On average, Round Lake-Brewster gets only about 16 cents per meal to spend on fruit and vegetables, so skillful budgeting will be required in order to make the program work. Featured local produce would likely be paired with inexpensive items purchased through commodity-based programs, Romans said, to allow more money to be spent on the local items.
“I think people would be really surprised about how little schools have to work with, budget-wise, to feed kids,” Romans said.
In some cases, marketability may help schools keep costs down and still allow growers to profit from the program. If an apple is too small to sell at the farmers market, it might be just the right size for an elementary school’s menu. At another Minnesota school, a grower found his potatoes were too large to sell, but found the school could purchase and process them easily.
“We’re looking for those types of items, that don’t bring a premium price at the farmers market, but they still have them and need to use them up,” Romans said.
Donations are also encouraged and can inspire creative menu options schools wouldn’t necessarily try otherwise. One person donated six heads of cabbage to a Farm to School program, and the school made cole slaw.
“The kids really, really liked it, because it was just like KFC. That’s nothing we would have put on the menu, because we would have assumed kids wouldn’t like that,” Romans explained. “I plan on talking with the students and finding out what they’re willing to try.”
She may also offer taste days, in which students can try new lunch options before they’re made as entrees, because research indicates people take 14 bites of a food before they can really tell whether they like it or not.
“Kids are asking for spinach salad, asking for green peppers,” Romans said. “If people just knew that, I think they would be amazed.”
Any local growers interested in selling or donating food to Round Lake-Brewster may attend an informational meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in room 104 of Round Lake-Brewster High School, Round Lake. A Nobles County official will help explain to growers what types of foods can be accepted under the Farm to School program’s guidelines.
Call Romans at (507) 945-8123 with questions about the Round Lake-Brewster program.