"True Food" and True Fun in Minneapolis
What a day! The Minneapolis Public Schools’ (MPS) third annual Farm to School Community BBQ took place under bright blue skies on a crisp early autumn day. Over 750 families and community members gathered with over 50 different organizational partners to celebrate MPS’ great work in getting local food into school cafeterias. I had the pleasure of competing against the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in a corn shucking contest. We were neck and neck – or maybe ear to ear – but I ultimately lost the race. Luckily, children in Minneapolis are winning big!
Minneapolis provides a fantastic example of a school district embracing the changes recently called for in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. School board members routinely eat lunch at the district’s schools, the food service program is making money, and in just two years, Minneapolis school food has become a source of community pride. To enable as much scratch cooking as possible, MPS will invest $40 million in kitchen upgrades to bring the district’s majority “heat-and-serve” sites up to cooking capacity.
A “True Food Chef Council” made up of area restaurateurs works with the district’s culinary staff to develop new recipes. Then chefs, school staff, and volunteers conduct taste tests and naming contests with the kids. Kale salad becomes “green lava” and everybody is happy. With MPS’ large Somali, Hmong, and Latin American population in mind, ethnic flavors are also popular. The Chef Council recently developed a delicious chicken with coconut curry dish.
Though the growing season is really only four months long, local fare spans the menu year round thanks to creativity, planning, and dedicated partnerships. The first Thursday of every month is “Minnesota Thursdays” and the district is in the early stages of providing other districts with resources to bring more schools along in local sourcing. At MPS, a recent purchase of local turkey from Ferndale Market meant this turkey producer had finally found a large outlet for all of his dark meat (turkey tacos). While an MPS food cart filled with fruits, veggies and other healthy fare is being piloted at open campus high schools; it’s called the “True Food” truck.
To be sure, there are districts all across the country doing fantastic work out there. MPS’ farm to school celebration included a veggie grand prix, the corn shucking contest, a bike powered fruit smoothie machine, a cow milking station, and one farmer after another with big smiles on their faces – all happy to be serving great, nutritious food to hungry kids.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about the USDA Farm to School Program, sign-up for the Farm to School E-letter.