Lamphere School District Adds Fresh Farm Produce To Menu
Locally sourced apples among offerings for 2014-15
By Andy Kozlowski of the C & G News
September 24, 2014
MADISON HEIGHTS — Each week, about 2,000 apples arrive in the Lamphere school district, delivered by Chuck Bristol, of Brookwood Fruit Farm in Almont.
“We call and order bushels of apples that they bring to us every week, so the apples we get on Monday were picked over the weekend,” said Katie McConkie, director of food services for Lamphere Public Schools. “This means the kids are not only getting apples, but they’re getting fresh apples, and quite frankly, they’re less expensive ordering them from the orchard.”
All kinds of apples are delivered to the district, and this is just the start of a new focus on locally sourced produce, with plans to arrange for vegetable shipments from other farms in Michigan, as well.
The connection with Brookwood Fruit Farm came about when McConkie spoke to the food services director for a district in Waterford. She and the other food service directors meet once a month at Oakland Schools to compare notes and share ideas.
The Waterford director had met Bristol at the farmers market in Waterford, where they agreed to start shipping apples to Waterford schools. The Almont farm borders Romeo at 38 Mile and Van Dyke.
For his part, Bristol said the arrangement works well.
“I’ve done Waterford from last fall until April or so,” Bristol said. “My apple crop has been good, real good. We lost all of our peaches, and some hard cherries and pears, but the apples in all varieties have been doing very well. This week, we’re picking Macintosh and honey crisp; next week, we’ll have Cortland. The schools are one more market for us, and what they take is medium size; we retail our largest size apples, and the medium apples go to the schools.”
McConkie said that purchasing from local farmers qualifies Lamphere Public Schools as “Farm to School,” a classification through the Michigan Department of Education that is encouraged since it strengthens the local economy.
The new apple initiative is not the only way the Lamphere district is trying to be proactive with the food they provide.
Over at Hiller Elementary, the kids receive free breakfast and free lunch every day, by way of their status as a CEO school (Community Eligibility Option), which provides federal funding for the meals.
The first 15 minutes of instructional time are provided for eating breakfast in class; coolers are filled with whole-grain bagels, cream cheese, yogurt, fresh fruit and fat-free milk, and provided to each class.
For lunch, there are four options each day: The student’s choice of a hot item on the menu, the monthly alternate, a fresh-made salad, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The drinks include several flavors of fat-free milk, and all bread products are 51 percent or higher whole grain. The apples are part of their lunch, if they choose.
“Because the students are getting a full breakfast, they have better attendance and do better as far as listening to the teacher,” McConkie said. “They’re learning better, and their test scores are higher, and their behavior is improved. A hungry child cannot learn, so this really helps. At Lamphere, we say, ‘We think food, because the students can’t think without it.’ And it’s fun for them to eat in the classroom with their friends.”
Having fun with their food extends to the cooking club at each elementary school. Students in kindergarten through fifth-grade pay $3 to attend the club, after school; anywhere from 40-100 kids usually attend each session. They then learn how to prepare healthy snacks at home, without using knives or the oven.
One example is a string cheese scooter, forming the scooter from cheese, the wheels from cucumber or zucchini, and the spokes and handlebars from pretzel sticks, with black olives capping off each handlebar. McConkie leads each session, often with a guest chef.
“We want to feed the kids nutritious meals, but at the same time, we’re teaching them about the value of nutrition, as well,” McConkie said, noting that part of their campaign includes two mascots: Andy the Penguin and Artie the Polar Bear, seen in pictures around the elementary schools, promoting a message of eating right.
This message extends to the high school, where students can get experience working directly in the school garden, located in one of the interior courtyards. Now in its seventh or eighth year, the garden provides all kinds of vegetables, and some fruits, as well.
“If we need some strawberries, we’ll go down to the garden and pick what we need and bring it back to the kitchen to prepare it. I’ll tell the students who work with us to go pick, say, green beans, and they can taste them right off the vine, or I’ll tell them to pick different herbs, like basil and chive and parsley, and they can take a leaf right off the plant and eat it,” McConkie said. “They might not get to see that at home, but here, they can cultivate the garden, and we even dry out the seeds for the following year’s crop.”
The garden includes cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, zucchini, eggplant, onions, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, and more. It’s yet another way the Lamphere district is locally sourcing the food they serve their students.
The belief is the focus on eating healthy will pay off.
“It helps the teachers teach the students throughout the day because the students’ stomachs are full and they’re feeling well and they’re ready to learn,” McConkie said. “The teachers love it, and the students love it, too.”