Guest post by Vanessa Herald, University of Wisconsin, Madison - Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
The University of Wisconsin, Madison - Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems serves as the Great Lakes Regional Lead for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog post during Farm to School Month.
By this time in October, most farms and schools in our Great Lakes Region have experiences the first hard frost of the season, if not the first snowfall. We face the challenges of a short growing season every year, but that doesn’t stop local schools, community organizations, non-profits, state and local agencies from establishing incredible farm to school programs. As a region, what could we do to celebrate National Farm to School Month, encourage new schools to connect with local farms to feature a local food item and have fun? Our answer was the first Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch!
As a region, the six states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Indian boast farm to school programs in 6,664 schools, reaching over 3,347,008 students. Our regional apple producers grow at least 320 million pounds of apples for fresh eating. What better to connect our regional growers and students than to encourage everyone to bite into a regional apple at noon on Food Day, October 24! In Michigan alone, last year over 74,000 students and residents participated in the Michigan Apple Crunch sponsored by Cherry Capital Foods, a Michigan-based distributor that works directly and exclusively with farmers, growers and producers from their home state.
The Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch was a bushel of success. Not only did schools and school districts across the region chomp into apples, so did other farm to school partners like the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and Ohio State University Extension The School Nutrition Association of Michigan even hosted an Apple Crunch Party at their annual conference.
“The Crunch is a simple and flexible way to get schools excited about celebrating Wisconsin food. Sometimes people feel overwhelmed by how complex farm to school can look, and this is a simple way to celebrate it,” says Sarah Elliott, Wisconsin State Lead based at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
And celebrate they did, with over 100 schools participating in the Crunch. This was very apparent in the Janesville School District, which hosted a big Apple Crunch Celebration. Janesville School District is home to 10,000 students in Southern Wisconsin, and has committed to purchasing local foods for this school year. Janesville made the most of their Crunch during lunch period last Friday. A huge, hand-painted farm to school poster accompanied special guests Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Ben Brancel, Janesville School District Superintendent Dr. Karen Schulte, and Representative Amy Loudenbeck, along with hundreds of enthusiastic sixth grade students at Marshall Elementary School.
At 11:45 they ceremoniously counted down and loudly crunched into local apples from Brightenwoods Orchard. Special guests Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Ben Brancel and Janesville School District Superintendent Dr. Karen Schulte joined the sixth grade class at Marshall Elementary School to ceremoniously count down and crunch into local apples from Brightenwoods Orchard. The event was a celebration of local foods, local farmers and the benefits of fruits and vegetables. Simultaneously, all students in the district were served the same local apples for lunch, along with an October menu full of local food items.
Jim Degan, School Nutrition Manager for Janesville, began planning for the event in September. “Farm to school takes a lot of partnerships and commitment. The goal of the Apple Crunch is to generate some awareness of our farm to school efforts, and the partnerships that make it work.” Degan sees farm to school as a value to local farmers, the local community and students. “The quality and taste of local products is fantastic. You don’t get that taste anywhere else. Sometimes it can be hard to get kids to eat fruits and vegetables, so the good quality and colors of the local products really helps.” This was evident at the Apple Crunch, as student enthusiastically, and loudly, showed their approval for these local apples.
“Folks all across the state are very excited about the Crunch, in part because it’s a collective activity that brings us all together. People felt like they were part of something bigger than just what’s happening in their own school,” commented Elliott. And as students, teachers and community members from across the region bit into their delicious apples last week, we all felt the enthusiasm generated by the simple act of crunching into a local apple.