The following article was written by Kelcie Litchfield, child hunger specialist, for The Child Hunger Digest, the Second Harvest Heartland Child Hunger Program's monthly newsletter with nutrition program updates and resources. To find out more information about the Second Harvest Heartland's Child Hunger initiative, click this link. This article is reprinted with the author's permission.
Spotlight on Fridley Public Schools
Renee Arbogast has been in her role as Nutritional Services Director in Fridley Public Schools for 4 years, starting in 2019 and having come from Becker school district. So, she had about 6 months of “normal times” and has since been operating within the pandemic – which means navigating supply chain issues, inflated costs, staffing shortages, and more – all in addition to her main responsibilities, which include menu planning, purchasing, ensuring USDA meal pattern compliance, staff training and more. Despite all these challenges and responsibilities, Renee believes in the impact of Farm to School and scratch cooking in her meal programs and makes it a priority to lead on these initiatives in her district.
What does Farm to School look like for you?
For Renee, it’s important to engage students (she has over 2,700 of them) in her meal programs, so they are able to see themselves within the food they are eating. For Hispanic Heritage month, she has served plantains, black beans, jerk chicken and rice for lunch and in November, will be highlighting foods like wild rice and three sisters’ salad, wojapi, and baked squash to celebrate Native American Indian Heritage month. She explains that a big part of her role is to talk with kids about what they like, and what they want to see in their meals.
With a background in healthcare and as a registered dietician, Renee believes that school meals play an important role in a child’s nutrition and that food is the fuel that kids need to learn in school. So, it is important to Renee to serve the highest quality, most delicious meals possible for her students. And that’s why she chooses to purchase local product from farms and distributors.
However, the challenges that Fridley Nutritional Services department are facing this year are familiar to many in the school nutrition world – food shortages, inflated costs, and having to get creative with the foods they can get on the fly. However, Renee has found that working with local partners and farmers has actually made her less susceptible to supply chain disruptions. The cherry tomatoes and green peppers pictured above are sourced from the USDA commodity school foods program, and when available are purchased from local farms through The Good Acre.
Farm to School - why do you believe in it?
Supports local community and agriculture, dollars in farms go to communities to thrive and grow
Exposes children to higher quality, nutritious foods that they don’t have at home
Better food improves classroom behaviors so children can focus on learning
Builds connections and more efficient access to food – local foods are less likely to be subject to supply chain threats
Encourages children to be risk-takers and try new things
Teaches kids where their food comes from, and it just tastes so much better!
Last year, Fridley Schools served up to 15,000 lbs. of local products to students in their school meal programs – that includes dairy, meat, vegetables like the squash from Seeds Farm in Northfield and fruit like the apples from Pine Tree Apple Farm in White Bear Lake.