Farm to School Program Brings Fresh Potatoes to Schools

Published online: Dec 27, 2013 Sean Dalton, Heritage Newspapers
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DEXTER, Mich. - The Dexter Farm to School program's volunteers toured cafeterias throughout the district this week, extolling the virtues of the oft misunderstood carbohydrate-laden starch vegetable-the potato.

Program coordinator Caitlyn Joseph has visited Dexter's schools in the past with locally-grown tomatoes and root vegetables for the Farm Fresh Food Days outreach program. This month she visited Cornerstone Elementary Dec. 17, Bates Dec. 18, Creekside Intermediate Dec. 19 and Wylie Dec. 20. With each visit she brought potatoes from local growers: Yukon Gold and blue potatoes from Sunseed Farm in Ann Arbor, Mountain Rose and fingerling potatoes from Tantre Farm in Chelsea, and accompanying herbs from the Creekside School Garden.

"Both of those farms are within 20 miles of the schools," Joseph said while working a pan of roasted potatoes over with a steel spatula to ensure they didn't stick to the wax paper sheet in the oven.

Joseph roasted the assorted potatoes in an oven set to 350 degrees. They were cooked with olive oil and seasoned with fresh thyme, as well as salt and garlic powder. It's a simple recipe, Joseph admits, which is intended to be easily managed by the school district's cafeteria staff in the future.

The long-term goal is to replace items like french fries and tater tots from the menu entirely, which, from a health perspective, is a much better use of fresh locally-grown potatoes. Potatoes are excellent sources of vitamin C, dietary fiber, and vitamin B6.

"The prep is pretty easy so we can see if the schools can do this some day-the challenge is making it easy and cost-effective for them do so," Joseph said.

For the most part, potatoes did well in the optional polling that's done at the sampling table set up for each Farm Fresh Food Day. Cornerstone students gave 238 thumbs up to potatoes and only 12 thumbs down. Bates students were a little harder to please with 138 thumbs up to 67 down.

Creekside student Quincy Gough said he appreciated the way the potatoes were cooked. "I can actually taste the flavor of the potato," he said of Joseph's cooking versus a tater tot or a french fry.

A group of three students at one table-Chris, Nathan and Isaac-said they definitely appreciate the potato side of being meat and potatoes lads. "I love potatoes," Nathan exclaimed loudly. Chris said he learned some nutritional facts about potatoes. Isaac said that potatoes are "amazing." None of them had ever seen pink or purple potatoes in person.

The Dexter Farm to School program is paid for by grant money from the Chelsea-Area Wellness Foundation. The foundation's mission is to promote healthy eating and living, with the added bonus of helping promote local agriculture, which, if supported and sustained properly, can make fresh and healthy food more accessible.

The program represents a partnership between the Dexter Wellness Coalition and the Dexter Community Schools Food and Nutrition department, which purchases the local foods for the Farm Fresh Food Days tastings.

Source: Heritage Newspapers