Farm to School

I have worked in public education for 16 years as a coach, teacher, Assistant Principal, Principal, and now as a Superintendent of Schools. My career path has taken me from districts in urban North Carolina to rural northern Michigan. While differences between these districts are many, there is one nagging constant that I as an educator have fought and struggled against… school lunches!
I began teaching in 1996, and as a former athlete and coach, I was immediately concerned with the quality and selection of foods that have traditionally been the staples of public school lunch programs across America.
When I became a high school principal, I worked diligently to encourage my food service directors to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to their lunch programs, serve less fried foods, and offer soup and salad bars. Over the years, the school districts I worked in changed, but the food service director’s answers were the almost always the same. Invariably, the food service directors lamented their limited funds and their requirement to purchase commodities foods with the federally allotted commodities dollars they received.
Fast forward to my present position as Superintendent of Central Lake Public Schools. Imagine my surprise when I arrived and in my first week discovered that we already have a fledging “buy fresh and local” movement in place in our food service program. Presently, our district purchases all our ground beef locally from Shooks Farms, and the beef is fresh and pink slime free. Hurray! What a great first step. Secondly, I was excited to learn that Deb Wolgamott, Central Lake food service director is more than willing to leverage her limited funds to purchase fruits, vegetables, and protein locally to benefit our students and staff.
Central Lake is a Title 1 district with over 65% Free and Reduced priced meals. This reality makes our efforts to serve our students healthy foods all the more important. On Friday, I worked with local Farmers and Food Service directors from Antrim, Kalkaska, Charlevoix and Emmet counties to host the first annual Farms to Schools meeting in Central Lake. My mission was to connect farmers, producers, food service directors and parents from our local area to explore buying fresh and local as much as possible.
In three hours, we were able to identify available local fruits and vegetables, and to explore price points, delivery options, and food safety guidelines that all of us must adhere to. At the end of this first meeting, participants learned that there are many opportunities to buy fresh foods from local producers.
Farmers learned about food service price points and creative ideas were discussed to reduce or waive delivery charges. The end result is that we have been able to serve asparagus, squash, beef, apples and cherries that originated within a ten-mile radius of the school. I am excited to see (and taste) how these partnerships grow in the future. Our kids will be the beneficiaries of these extra efforts. In the interest of healthy kids, thanks to everyone for being flexible and willing to try something new. Happy eating!
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