Farm to school continues to flourish

Northwest Michigan leading the way to a healthy school environment.

Students at Platte River Elementary proudly display their roasted romanesco cauliflower. Photo credit: Mikaela Taylor
Students at Platte River Elementary proudly display their roasted romanesco cauliflower. Photo credit: Mikaela Taylor

“We loved it so much, we ate 6!” a student exclaimed in response to September’s taste test of Roasted Romanesco at Frankfort Elementary. What is a taste test and why are they occurring in cafeterias across Northwest Michigan? 

Taste tests are an integral part of the procurement pillar of the national farm to school movement, which presses for local foods to be purchased, promoted and served within schools. In general, they are events in cafeterias and classrooms that allow students to sample a small portion of a new recipe and vote on whether they “liked it,” “loved it!,” or “tried it” but it was not their favorite. By doing so, they expose students to new, flavorful items and encourage them to think critically about their food. In addition, taste tests act as a tool for food service directors to gauge students interest in possible new menu items in order to reduce waste and increase involvement in meals. 

As a FoodCorps service member hosted by Michigan State University Extension Grand Traverse County, I am actively working with food service directors in Frankfort-Elberta, Platte River and Traverse City Area public schools to make taste tests a part of the cafeteria and classroom culture. In addition, we connect taste tests with the Harvest of the Month campaign to encourage support of local farmers and to act on the seasonality of foods. Recognizing the challenges food service faces, resources like 10 Cents a Meal were developed to reduce financial barriers and assist them in supporting health school food environments and promoting healthy eating. Likewise, Cherry Capital Foods, alongside a plethora of farmers, has stepped up to source to institutions and simplify the complexities involved with getting local foods into cafeterias. 

My involvement in the farm to school movement rests on the foundation of empowerment; empowerment of “children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities” (National Farm to School Network). To successfully build this resilient, vibrant community, we need to sustain and build relationships between multiple stakeholders in the region; a reality being carried out through the help of the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network. We also need those invested in our youth to contribute their skills. Join us in volunteering in the school gardens, assisting with the cafeteria taste tests, sharing your farm to school stories, and starting conversations that will lead to positive change. 

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