Farm to School Program Grows Roots in the North Country

At a time when convenience seems to be the option most often taken, it’s important to give youth convenient healthy food choices. North Country schools are doing just that.

North Country SHIP has partnered with area schools in Hubbard, Beltrami, Clearwater and Lake of the Woods counties to increase healthy food options for students. Over the years, food service trainings have provided education, promoting healthy food options for students. Schools within the North Country region are serving fresh fruits and vegetables to their students, either grown on their school grounds or purchased from local farmers. In 2018, North Country SHIP brought food service training and local farmers together.

“Our goal for this training was to continue to make connections with food service workers and school staff while building new working relationships with local farmers,” said Naomi Carlson, SHIP staff.

Twenty-eight participants from 14 schools attended the food service training. Presenters highlighted Farm to School opportunities such as school gardens, salad bars, healthy breakfast and wellness programs. The training had an interactive local farmers’ panel that emphasized new ways for schools to partner with local farmers in rural Minnesota. Local foods were brought in, and participants prepared lunch together. Amy Mastin, a presenter at the food service training, shared information about the Laporte school garden and how its healthy food program was implemented.

“I am hoping to help educate our students and community to impact the choices they make at home as well as understanding agriculture,” said Mastin.

Kelliher Schools has been a leader in Farm to School and received the Gold Award of Distinction from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its healthy eating work. Tim Lutz, keynote presenter at the food service training, is superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools and partnered with North Country SHIP while he was Kelliher school superintendent.

“The food service training has helped staff learn what to do with certain food items such as proper cooking or new recipes,” he said. “The food service training provided technical assistance and skills to properly equip staff to be more prepared to cook fresh foods. I hope this training will result in greater participation in kids eating those foods.”

Jeff Molnar, one of the local farmer presenters, said, “I have an advantage because I’ve brought produce to the school for years and hold a position as a paraprofessional and special educator. The students comment to me, for example, how they enjoyed my carrots. It’s nice for them to know the local grower who brought the food that’s on their plate.”

North Country SHIP plans to continue working with local 5 schools on their healthy eating and Farm to School efforts and encourage partners to build relationships with their local farmers. The more that schools have access to local food producers, the more informed they’ll be about the options available for purchasing fresh, locally grown food. This enriches connections in the community and creates an opportunity for shared Farm to School learning.

For more information about Farm to School contact Naomi Carlson at ncarlson@hrdc.org.