Montague and Whitehall School Meals Include Locally Grown Potatoes
March 1, 2017
This innovative farm-to-school program involves farmers,
teachers and students.
by Kendra Wills,
Michigan State University Extension
While many schools serve French fries and tater-tots from
bag, Montague and Whitehall School districts in Muskegon County, Michigan
decided they wanted to do something different. Food service director, Dan
Gorman, who is widely recognized as a state leader in farm-to-school work,
decided it was time to work on sourcing some of the school’s potatoes from a
local Michigan farm.
“Michigan potatoes are available year round and are a great
nutritional balance to a school meal,” said Gorman. “Once we found a supply of
Michigan potatoes, our next challenge was to find a way to process the
potatoes,” he added.
To process the raw potatoes from the farm, Gorman tapped the
expertise of Elissa Penczar, Catering and Culinary Management Instructor with
the Muskegon Area Career Tech Center, who has worked with Gorman on other
farm-to-school initiatives in the past. Chef Penczar instructs several classes
of high school students drawn from all 16 Muskegon County high schools. Some of
her students are responsible for washing and cutting the potatoes for Gorman’s
kitchen staff. Catering and Culinary Management students are also developing
spice mixtures and cooking protocols for the potatoes, which are served with
part of the skin on to increase the nutrients.
Chef Penczar says she is pleased with the progress her
students have made. “Cutting potatoes uniformly while leaving some of the skin
on requires skillful knife work. Creating spice blends and calculating the
proper ratio of spices to potatoes takes creative problem solving, attention to
detail and dedication. These are all skills these students will need after they
graduate,” said Penczar.
Transportation and storage were early challenges in the
effort. The district’s USDA Farm-to-School Planning grant was tapped to solve
these issues. The grant allowed for the purchase of plastic carts and storage
containers to transport the potatoes from the farm to the school. In February
2017, one hundred pounds of potatoes from Kitchen Farms in Elmire, Michigan are
being processed and served in the both districts through the lunch program each
Students are engaged in this farm-to-school effort through a
variety of ways. Lynn DeVlieg is a farm-to-school coordinator with Montague and
Whitehall School Districts. She conducts classroom presentations and develops a
“Harvest of the Month” newsletter for teachers with links to videos, books and
lesson plans they can use in the classroom. DeVlieg also coordinates taste
tests in classrooms so students have input on the dishes they like best for
their school meals. This month they are testing out two different types of
roasted potato recipes with different spice blends.
“It isn’t enough just to source from local farms. To truly
make an impact, we must also involve our students and staff in school garden so
we can all increase our knowledge about growing food, local agriculture and
culinary skills. These are lessons that will hopefully stick with students for
the rest of their lives,” said DeVlieg.