HURON — National Farm to School Month is upon us, and the Huron School District Nutritional Department is making great efforts as usual to educate and provide students with local, fresh produce.
“What’s not to like about kids and local produce,” said Carol Tompkins, Food Service Director at the Huron School District, “It helps everybody, the local farmers and economy, and the kids like the locally grown produce.”
The school has been involved in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) for eight years, which is a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“We apply for it every year, it gives us the money to be able to offer our elementary students a fresh fruit or a fresh vegetable tasting,” Tompkins explained, “They get something in the classroom everyday and we send a fun fact informational sheet about it.”
The food for the daily tastings is prepared in the middle school every day and sent out to elementary classes from kindergarten through fifth grade. “The kids looks forward to trying a new fruit or veg everyday,” said Tompkins, “It makes it more fun for them because they don’t know what they are going to get.”
The students have had the opportunity to taste many different fruits and vegetables through the FFVP, including figs and Mexican gherkins, which are lemon flavored cucumbers shaped like tiny watermelons.
“A lot of what we use for the program comes from Fairacre Farms, they do fun things,” Tompkins explained, “The colored cauliflower is really fun to serve the kids. They are kind of fascinated, it comes in purple, green, yellow and white. They learn and they try something new.” Fairacre Farm is owned and operated by Kyle and Frances Koehn in Iroquois and they use what they call a “high tunnel,” to grow produce year round.
“They came to me at a time when we were looking for a grower, it has been a great partnership, and they grow all kinds of things for us. We have been working on and off with them for about eight years,” explained Tompkins.
The school runs breakfast, lunch and after school snack programs, all of which have an element of fresh fruit or veg.
“We have a Summer Nutrition Program, and the best produce is in the summer” explained Tompkins, “It was great! The produce was literally grown and eaten within a day or so from being picked.”
Other growers the school buys from are Hebda Family Produce by Dale Hebda in Mission Hills, they have been supplying apples for the past four years. Watermelons and muskmelons are purchased from Larson’s Melons on the Curve by Kelly and Paul Larson. “The Larson’s are new with us this year, and we bought melons from them all through the month of September,” said Tompkins.
The growing season is short here, of course, but the school will do what they can to provide the students with fresh and healthy produce. “When I call for something for the FFVP I want probably 1,200 of something, the apples we had delivered came to around 3,600 apples,” said Tompkins, “We need massive quantities, which can be hard for growers to provide.”
Tompkins explained enthusiastically, “There is no downside to Farm to School, I like the program, and I wish everybody could do it.”
Carol Tompkins, Food Service Director on left, and Karla Sawvell, Middle School Team Leader, present a bowl of fresh apples from local farms in the middle school kitchen.
Photo by Angelina Della Rocco/Plainsman