Cafeteria staff get the dirt on “farm to school” in leadership academy

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Staff from six area districts kicked off our Food Service Leadership Academy with a sampling of sweet potato recipes and a tour of an urban farm. The group gathers quarterly to learn how to become advocates for farm to school programs at their schools.

Representatives Park Hill, Liberty, Kansas City Public Schools, Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools and food service provider Company Kitchen boasted a combined 146 years of experience in school food service! Their districts have a range of local food sourcing in their schools, whether for their lunch menus, snacks or sampling events.

“It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition,” says Rachael McGinnis Millsap, director of KC Healthy Kid’s Farm to School Academy. Districts don’t have to use local food in all schools. It’s okay to start small, with schools that are the most ready, either because they have a garden and designated coordinator, a relationship with a farm or farmer or a properly-equipped kitchen.

Our chef, Margaret Turner, brought samples of recipes to share. The group tasted frozen yogurt, a smoky hummus-like dip and a smoothie all made with sweet potatoes.

They also visited Juniper Gardens Training Farm, where refugee farmers learn how to build a business here in Kansas City. There, site manager Sam Davis and Alicia Ellingsworth, KC Healthy Kids’ farm to institution manager, gave a seed-to-market overview of how the farm works, answered questions, and plucked tangy leaves of the Burmese staple, chin baung (roselle in English, it’s in the hibiscus family), for everyone to taste.

Throughout the year, the Farm to School Leadership Academy will explore solutions to common concerns such as budget, staffing shortages, extra prep time required for fresh produce, and food safety and traceability.

The Farm to School Academy also offers a coalition for food service directors and other stakeholders, a kitchen readiness assessment, brief trainings on culinary techniques like knife skills and seasoning, sampling events for students and the Grow a Garden Curriculum with lessons for classroom teachers and school nurses.

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