MSU Extension awarded grant to train school food service staff in local produce utilization

Equipping food service staff with appropriate training and resources can boost Farm to School efforts.

Photo credit: Meal Makeover Moms
Photo credit: Meal Makeover Moms

Michigan institutions of all kinds are interested in sourcing more local products for their food programs. Significant progress has been made in recent years that has improved institutions’ access to more local food options. With the support of statewide agencies and organizations like Michigan Department for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michigan Department of Education, the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, and the Michigan Farm to Institution Network (MFIN) these local purchasing efforts have expanded and become more successful and effective. Despite these advances, barriers still exist for many institutions to easily source and use local products. Through research and communication, the MFIN members learned that many K-12 food service programs feel that their staff members do not have adequate skills to store, handle and prepare locally grown, whole vegetables and fruits. 

In partnership with an array of organizations and individuals, a team of MSU Extension Community Food Systems educators who belong to MFIN’s Technical Education (Tech-ed) subcommittee applied for grant funding to address this challenge. This team was fortunate to receive a Specialty Crop Block Grant to develop a Michigan-specific hands-on training, accompanying curriculum and a suite of sharable resources to assist food service professionals with their need. The team anticipates rolling out the pilot round of hands-on trainings and the associated curriculum in the spring and summer of 2016. This educational opportunity will address the needs of school food service staff on a variety of topics involved with local produce preparation including culinary terminology and techniques, proper storage, food safety, menu planning and Michigan’s seasonality. 

This project will target school food service staff, with the intention that participants will be able to bring the knowledge back to their districts and train other staff members for a broader impact. In the future, the team hopes to foster the expansion of this training to include other institutional food service workers, like hospitals or senior care food programs. The curriculum and resources developed through this project will be made publicly available and freely downloadable online. 

The project team is purposefully partnering with School Nutrition Association of Michigan (SNAM), which is another professional development provider for school food service professionals. This partnership focuses on creating a curriculum and training that compliments the already diverse course offerings of SNAM and will allow the organization to continue providing this training, if possible, when the grant funding expires. 

Stay tuned for more details on the statewide trainings and sharable resources.

Michigan State University Extension supports Farm to School efforts across the state, to encourage healthy students and abundant opportunities for Michigan’s producers.

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