Students at the Sibley East – Arlington campus will be having garden-fresh vegetables incorporated into the school lunch menu this year.
Sibley East Public School, this spring, received four grants to help fund a Farm-to-School program. Under the program, ag students and teachers planted and are harvesting a one acre vegetable plot in Arlington. Sibley East was awarded $5,525 from the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council, $2,500 from AgStar, $1,000 from the Minnesota Valley Electric Co-op, and $1,000 from the Statewide Health Improvement Plan (SHIP).
Because of logistics, at this time Sibley East is just “piloting” the program at Arlington. This is not to say that as the school year progresses, that produce will not be provided in Gaylord, Superintendent Stephen Jones explained.
Since mid-August, Sibley East food service staff has worked with green and yellow beans, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, cabbage and squash. Head cook Joan Budahn estimated that the food service staff worked more than 30 hours prior to the start of school, freezing the fresh produce. Pumpkins, carrots, and kale have yet to be harvested.
Peas were planted but were eaten by deer.
Joan Budahn, head cook and food service employee for 29 years, said that 30 gallons of green beans and three gallons of yellow beans have been frozen. Beans will be used with hot dish and served as vegetables. Tomatoes are being made into salsa and will also be used fresh.
Cucumbers, so far, have been made into eight gallons of refrigerator pickles. They will be served with sub sandwiches and hamburgers.
Potatoes are being used for potato salad at a staff picnic and the smallest ones will be cooked and served with seasoned butter, like baby reds.
Onions will be used for potato salad, hamburgers, subs, and tacos.
Cabbage is being made into cole slaw. There will be a variety of uses for the squash.
“I’m very impressed with the FFA and the advisors,” Budahn said. She has spent the summer determining how to use the produce. She said it will be interesting to see how much food won’t need to be ordered.
The next steps in the process include looking forward to growing more vegetables for next years, and implementing a Farm-to-School program that will be district-wide.
According to Jones, statistics show that Farm-to-School programs are not cost-saving initiatives in the long run. Providing fresh fruits and produce is more costly. Jones said that is why there is pressure on the nation’s legislators to approve a boost in the federal food program’s reimbursement amount so schools can afford to provide more wholesome food to students.