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From farm to the lunch tray: District 833's new partners

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On a daily basis a rainbow of fresh vegetables can be found in District 833’s salad bars. 

“We pride ourselves on our fresh fruit and veggie bars,” said Wendy Tracy, the director of District 833 Nutrition Services. “We do our best to provide a variety of colors and textures on the salad bar so kids can do that really colorful plate.” 

District 833 can truly say that its fresh produce is in fact truly “fresh” since much of the produce comes from local Minnesota and Wisconsin farms. 

“It adds a lot of value to our program,” Tracy said. “When the products are available to us, we start incorporating them into the menus right away.”

October is National Farm2School Month. 

“Other than the economic benefits to the farmer, for us it’s the freshness of the produce that is super important,” Tracy said. “It’s about being able to keep all the vitamins and minerals and not cooking them out of a dish.” 

Purchasing local 

District 833 Nutrition Services has been partnering with local farms for the past several years. 

Some of the partnerships include fresh sweet corn and green beans from Axdahl’s in Stillwater, butternut squash from Riverside Farms in Elk River, parsnips from Fields and Sons in Andover and apples from Whistling Well Farm in Afton.

A new partnership this year is with the Hmong American Farmer Association Farm in Hastings, which supplies red potatoes to District 833’s secondary schools. 

Locally grown fruit such as melons and strawberries are also featured. 

Additionally, Tracy said, District 833 will also purchase cheese from local dairies and tortillas from a local company. 

“We try to support local whenever possible,” she said. “It’s such a huge, important focus for our department to support the local businesses, not just the farms.” 

Purchasing local products is relatively easy for District 833, Tracy said, since they currently work with the supplier Bix Produce. 

“Every week we get a list from Bix of the local products that are available,” she said, “and it tells you the farms where the products are coming from.” 

While District 833 tries to purchase as much local produce as possible, Tracy said, Nutrition Services will have to turn to out-of-state companies for the winter months. 

“Obviously the growing season in Minnesota is super short,” Tracy said, “so we take local products as they are available.” 

While purchasing local does provide some cost savings to District 833, Tracy said, that’s not the primary focus. 

“There’s a little bit of cost savings with going local, but it’s nothing too extreme,” she said. “For us it’s important to have those relationships and support local purchasing while having the freshest produce possible.” 

Cooking local 

While the majority of the local produce that Nutrition Services purchases can be found on the fresh fruit and vegetables bars throughout the district, a lot of the local products will also find their way into many homemade recipes. 

“We’ll either incorporate them into recipes or use them fresh on the salad bar,” Tracy said. “If we have corn available we might put that into a southwest soup recipe for instance or if tomatoes are available they might go in the salad bar.” 

Some of the recipes that the local produce can be found in include a roasted root vegetable dish, parmesan-crusted roasted red potatoes, beets and sweets salad, homemade soups and sauces, roasted squash, cooked green beans and the district’s newest recipe for pasta primavera. 

“We try to incorporate local into our homemade recipes whenever possible,” Tracy said. “None of those vegetables will go to waste.” 

Not only does cooking with local products guarantee the freshest food possible, but it also allows for learning opportunities with students, Tracy said, such as making them aware of what is available in Minnesota. 

“Students will learn how the process works from the actual farm to the table,” she said. 

There’s also opportunities for schools to visit the farms to see the process first-hand since they are local, Tracy said. 

Tracy said Nutrition Services is always hoping to expand its local offerings by developing new partnerships with local farms. 

District 833 is also considering the possibility of growing its own herbs and spices for use in its recipes, Tracy said. 

“It adds a lot of value to our program,” she said. “We want to keep our menus fresh and exciting.”

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