Monday, October 24, 2016

Harvest Season in Full Swing at Somerville Public Schools!

We’ve had a busy Fall season in the gardens! This week will wrap up the final, yet very important, chore of “putting the garden to bed”! Parent volunteers, students, and educators have been hard at work since the beginning of school, harvesting and tasting a variety of vegetables, saving tomato seeds, and planting garlic! Now it’s time to say goodnight to the gardens, as we learn about the importance of cover crops, mulching, and how some plants survive during the winter. Lower elementary school students have been engaged and directly involved in making sure our gardens stay healthy over the winter until we wake them up in the Spring!

We also celebrated our annual Corn Shucking and Local Harvest Day! With the help of community partner volunteers (Groundwork, Shape Up, UMass), parents, and students we shucked over 3,000 ears of corn before school even started! The children enjoyed the fruits of their labor with a local beef burger for lunch! Corn Shucking is always a favorite day of the school year for student and staff, and this year proved no different. Thanks to garden champion and parent volunteer, Jen, we have the Healey School's corn data, by the numbers:

number of ears shucked:  480  (8 bags w 60 ears each, the kids did the math)
number of minutes to shuck 480 ears of corn: 32
number of student shuckers:  30 give or take
number of volunteer shuckers: 4
number of staff: 5
number of corn earworms found: 4
corny jokes recited:  2
amount of fun had at Healey on Corn Shucking Day: some things can't be measured.

Local Happenings:
Concord, Massachusetts will host the Farm-Based Education Conference on November 4th-6th
This will be a great opportunity for anyone interested in effectively incorporating gardening into daily school curriculum.

Drumlin Farms, who provides farm fresh veggies to our salad bars, has a long list of exciting classes to meet everyone’s interests! Register here

Monday, June 13, 2016

We joined a CSA!

That's right! Somerville Food and Nutrition Services joined a CSA. A few weeks ago we piloted a Farm Fresh Salad Bar partnership with Drumlin Farm, Lincoln, MA.

What is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. According to the USDA, CSA philosophically refers to a "community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes...the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production." It can also imply an economic relationship between farmer and consumer, often called subscription farming. In other words, a subscriber agrees to buy a minimum amount of produce at a fixed price, often paying in advance for the subscription.

While we haven't paid in advance, we have committed to buying a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 5 shares (or veggie boxes) each week. This commitment creates a guaranteed market for the farm's produce.

How does the CSA work for our district?
Each week 3-5 boxes of fresh produce are harvested from Drumlin Farm's fields. After being washed and sorted, they are driven only 15 miles to our school kitchens then find their way to our school salad bars and grab-and-go salads. Weekly items include lettuce, kale, spinach, radishes and spring turnips. We also receive other abundant vegetables throughout the season to support the farm and keep our salad bar options exciting.

Hand harvested greens!

Harvest crew

Plants covered in Remay are protected from pests and the elements

Turnips for days

Radish, spring turnips, and spring greens on the salad bar.

What are the benefits and challenges of this partnership?
We asked Lauren Mancini, Somerville Food and Nutrition Services Director, Pauline Uccello, Somerville Food and Nutrition Services Assistant Director and Matt Celona, Lead Farmer at Drumlin Farm to share their thoughts.

1) What are the challenges to sourcing local directly from farms?

"Working with purchasing laws and drafting the appropriate bid and contract language is a challenge.  Also, it is hard for us to accept whole items, such as whole winter squash, that require peeling and chopping. Choosing the right produce is key to success." Lauren Mancini

"Pricing and staying within budget are concerns for us. Limited delivery days and locations can create logistical challenges." Pauline Uccello

"Guessing what kids will want to eat." Matt Celona

2) What are the benefits to sourcing local produce directly from farms?
"Supporting the local farm and exposing children to fresh, local foods." Lauren Mancini
"The produce is very fresh and of great quality. It is also great to know that the students are eating fresh produce from farms right near them that could even visit to see where the produce is coming from." Pauline Uccello
"If we have lots of what we think the kids will like, we can move large quantities more easily within the CSA arrangement. We’re not limited by having to supply a certain amount of any one crop: we can provide more of what’s bountiful and less of what’s not. This is convenient for the farmers." Matt Celona
3) What about the Farm Fresh Salads and Salad Bars are most exciting to you?
"The best aspect is how good the produce looks and tastes- the difference between straight from the farm and from our distributor is really amazing.  It is also exciting that we can create relationships with farmers that have potential to expand to other projects." Lauren Mancini

"To see that students are choosing salad over chicken nuggets is fantastic. Watching them make healthier choices is very rewarding." Pauline Uccello
"We get a lot of satisfaction imagining kids eating our produce at school!" Matt Celona
4) Additional thoughts:

"Purchasing directly from a farm clearly has its hurdles, but once the food comes in and it looks so appealing it makes it all worth it!" Lauren Mancini

"The education department is also very excited this relationship because so many of the children come here on field trips and with their families. It’s great for them to be able to see the name Drumlin Farm on the food they eat every day. They can get more of a connection with the farm, farms in general, and where their food comes from, which is certainly part of the mission of Drumlin." Drumlin Farm Staff

Future partnership
It is clear that constant communication about the students' preferences in relation to available produce is important for continued success of this program. Additional education and promotional materials will be made available to the district and community. We can't wait to see what produce the fall brings!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Kale Chip Recipe

As our National Nutrition Month Event, we held kale chip taste tests in all our K-8 school cafeterias. For the full story visit the post. If you would like to try the kale chips at home, use this yummy recipe.

Bunches of curly kale

8 cups kale, ripped into 3 inch pieces (~1 bunch)
1 tbsp  vegetable oil
1/8 – 1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350o
2. Wash and pat dry kale. For best results, kale must be very dry.
3. Remove kale from center stem and rip into 3 inch pieces.
4. Add oil and salt. Massage the oil and salt into the kale until the kale pieces are evenly coated.
5. Lay kale pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet; ideally the pieces are not touching.

6. Bake for 3-5 minutes. Checking regularly to make sure chips aren't burning.

Make sure to dry your kale well!

Gentle massage the oil and salt into the kale.

Do not overlap your kale pieces. Check them regularly so they don't burn!

They are so good that you might eat them right off of the tray!


Did you try this recipe at home?

Share your pictures @SvilleFood4Kids on Twitter and Instagram

Monday, May 2, 2016

Somerville Students Discover Kale Chips as a Healthy Snack Option

Back at the beginning of March, we gave you a sneak peek about how Somerville planned on celebrating National Nutrition month. We focused on 5, which is 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day.

This year, one of our goals for National Nutrition Month was to expose students to healthy and delicious ways to eat their veggies. We accomplished this goal by taste testing kale chips in 6 different cafeterias.

The kale chips are a great snack because they are crunchy and a little bit salty, just like regular potato chips, but with a lot more nutritional value. Kale has tons of vitamin A, vitamin K and some calcium too!

Some students compared the taste of kale chips to the taste of other vegetables they are more familiar with, including broccoli, spinach, and lettuce.

Students were able to vote on whether they would try the kale chips again. Giving students the chance to decide whether or not they liked the chips encourages them to continue to try new foods: no one likes every kind of food.

In fact, most students did like the kale chips: 85% of the 2860 students who tried the snack would try it again. In some schools, up to 89% of students like the kale chips!

Stay tuned for our exact kale chip recipe, so you can try it at home.

Special thank you to David Heidkamp, Framingham Nutrition Intern, Meghan Bodo, Food Literacy Educator, and volunteers from Shape Up Somerville and UMass Extension Nutrition Education Program. National Nutrition Month Activities are funded through the Somerville PEP Grant and Somerville Food and Nutrition Services Department.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Focus on 5 for National Nutrition Month 2016

March is National Nutrition Month! This year's theme is focus on 5 - that's 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

National Nutrition Month bulletin board, Winter Hill School

It's a no brainer that most kids love fruit, but some might find vegetables harder to like, especially those dark leafy greens, like kale. We took on this challenge by introducing the students to kale chips. When baked with a little salt, kale becomes crunchy with a slight umami flavor. Check back with us for the full recipe.

Bunches of curly kale

Kale chips

David Heidkamp, Framingham Nutrition Intern, and Meghan Bodo, Food Literacy Educator, washed, ripped, massaged and baked the kale for our first tasting in the Winter Hill School cafeteria. After eating their lunch, students stopped by the tasting table for a sample.

David and Meghan are ready to serve kale chips!
Taste, then vote!

What did the students think? This delicious and healthy snack is not only good for you but it was very popular with the students at Winter Hill. Some students were nervous to try a new vegetable but were very happy once they did. One fifth grader said, “I wish I could have kale chips everyday!”  Seventy-nine percent (325 out of 413) of the students tried the kale chips. Eighty-five percent of those who tried it said they would eat it again.

Over the next month will host taste tests at the following schools:
Arthur D. Healey School, March 3
John F. Kennedy Elementary School, March 10
West Somerville Neighborhood School, March 17
East Somerville Community School, March 24
Dr. Albert F. Argenziano School, April 7

Special thank you to David Heidkamp, Framingham Nutrition Intern, Meghan Bodo, Food Literacy Educator, and volunteers from Shape Up Somerville and UMass Extension Nutrition Education Program. National Nutrition Month Activities are funded through the Somerville PEP Grant and Somerville Food and Nutrition Services Department.