Potato-Friendly Salad Bars in Michigan Schools—the Program Begins

May 13, 2015  

The Michigan Potato Industry Commission hopes to have 150 salad bars installed in Michigan schools within the next five years. “It’s an ambitious plan, but 150 is our goal,” said the Commission’s executive director Mike Wenkel.

The Commission has launched a “Salad Bar Challenge” in cooperation with the U.S. Potato Board (USPB), the industry’s national promotion organization. Salad bars cost about $3,000 each, and if $1,000 is raised independently toward placement of one of them in a local school, the Commission and the USPB will contribute the remaining $2,000 for the purchase.

The program fits in well with efforts to improve schoolchildren’s nutrition, Wenkel pointed out. Current U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations for federally subsidized school feeding programs emphasize increased consumption of vegetables and fruits. Potatoes contain a broad range of beneficial nutrients and are an especially strong source of potassium and fiber. Wenkel noted that they naturally take a prominent position in a school salad bar.

He added that they’re also well regarded by school foodservice personnel for their versatility in preparation and their popularity among students. Ironically in 2011 when the USDA drafted its current regulations, it proposed sharp limitations on potato use. Many school foodservice directors and nutrition professionals responded by advocating unrestricted availability of potatoes, and Congress acted to nullify the USDA’s proposal. Wenkel cited recent research that justifies that action. A study from Texas A&M University showed that when potatoes are the vegetable offered in school lunches, vegetable consumption goes up. To further stimulate that demand, he said, USPB will provide schools that install new salad bars with an assortment of potato recipes, from roasted and mashed to several options for baking, along with nutritional information.

Wenkel said the program is just getting off the ground, and he hopes for fund-raising support in local school districts from many sources—growers, industry friends and the general agricultural community including county Farm Bureaus as well as parents of students.

Those interested in proceeding with the program for their local schools should contact the district foodservice director for interest and support. They should also visit a website maintained by United Fresh, the trade association of the fresh produce industry that already has a salad-bars-in-schools initiative under way that complements the Commission/USPB effort: http://www.saladbars2schools.org/get-a-salad-bar/schools/ . This site shows which Michigan schools are already interested in or are actively participating in the program, answers frequently asked questions and provides the application form, which needs to be signed by both the foodservice director and a district administrator.

Wenkel emphasized that donations made directly to the United Fresh program for salad bars are not eligible for the Commission/USPB match. A filled-out Michigan Funding Request Form must be sent along with the $1,000 check to Michigan Potato Industry Commission, ATTN: Salad Bar Challenge, 3515 West Rd, Suite A, East Lansing, MI 48823. The Commission will then work with the USPB and United Fresh to get the salad bar delivered to the designated school.

The Commission’s request form along with other details of the program will soon be linked to the Commission’s website. In summary, Wenkel said, the process for securing a salad bar is relatively simple: Generate interest, generate funding, get the school district to apply through the United Fresh website, send the $1,000 check with the Commission’s request form to the Commission, and await delivery of the salad bar to the benefiting school. The unveiling of the installation would make for a good local media event, Wenkel said, and he is willing to help out with that at the school. In fact, he’d like to do so 150 times. 

The Weekly Potato Report