Program supplies fresh produce from Jackson-area farms to students

by Claire Cummings | Jackson Citizen Patriot

Thursday September 10, 2009jack1

First-grader Calvin Cunningham sat down in the Northeast Elementary School cafeteria Wednesday with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, raisins, pears, vanilla milk and brightly colored cherry tomatoes and broccoli.

Yes, broccoli.

“What? I like them!” said Calvin, 6. “I like broccoli. I do.”

Students at all Jackson Public Schools elementary and middle schools this year will be offered fresh fruits and vegetables during lunch. Those who purchase lunch, or receive free or reduced lunch, are allowed one trip to a serving area.

Those who bring their lunches can purchase an a la carte bowl.

The vegetables Wednesday came from Keyes Produce. By the end of this month, the fresh fruit and vegetable serving areas will be filled with locally grown produce directly from the farms.

“It’s always better if we can give the business to area farmers,” said Brant Russell, food service director at Jackson Public Schools. “Plus, it’s also fresher if I don’t have to buy apples that come all the way from the Pacific (Coast).”

Along with JPS, Springport, Concord, Napoleon and Northwest school districts are participating in the Food System Economic Partnership’s Farm to School Program for the second year.jack2

“It would be really easy for them to just order from their primary vendor and go online and just click, click, click,” said Michaelle Rehmann, the Farm to School program director. “But they’re really committed to it.”

This year, six local farms are participating: Sweet Seasons Orchards, Hearthstone Farm Market, Kryst Farm, Curtis Farm, Titus Farms and Pregitzer Farm Market.

Students have eaten locally grown apples, watermelons, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, brussels sprouts, winter squash, redskin potatoes and asparagus as part of the program.

Napoleon Community Schools is expected to purchase peppers and watermelon this week from the Curtis Farm in Napoleon.

“It’s nice for the kids to have a chance to get some fresh vegetables as opposed to canned or frozen,” Dianne Curtis said.

Farm to School also goes into classrooms and cafeterias to put on presentations and arrange farm visits, Rehmann said.

Ed Jasinowski, owner of Sweet Seasons Orchard in Concord, said he lost his apple crop to a frost in June and doesn’t have any apples to provide to schools this year.

But Rehmann said that seasonality and the influence of weather on crops is also part of the lesson for students in Farm to School.

“It makes us more in tune and sensitive to just how delicate our food system really is,” she said.