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School districts tap student chefs to create unique recipes to support Cultivate Michigan

By Dan Gorman, Food Service Director, Whitehall and Montague Public Schools

Celebrating Michigan’s agriculture and serving local food has been a priority for the school food service programs of Montague Area Public Schools and Whitehall District Schools for years.  A new collaboration with the food service program, Muskegon Area Career Tech Center’s (MACTC) Catering & Culinary Management program and a statewide initiative, Cultivate Michigan, came to fruition on November 11, 2015 in Montague Area Public Schools and November 12, 2015 in Whitehall District Schools.

Cultivate Michigan is a statewide campaign to help farm to institution programs grow. Cultivate Michigan’s fall featured food is winter squash.

Key players involved in this effort are Dan Gorman, School Food Service Director; Lynn DeVlieg, Real Food SEED (Student Engagement Every Day) Coordinator (both with Montague and Whitehall School); and Elissa Penczar, Chef Instructor in the MACTC’s Catering and Culinary Management program.   In September, they brought the challenge of developing tasty school-appropriate recipes using winter squash to the MACTC culinary students. The students dove into the challenge with great results.  Seven recipes were sampled until a final two were selected to be presented to all of the students in both Whitehall and Montague School districts. The two winning recipes were Squish Squash Nachos and Cinnamon Roasted Squash.

"I continue to be impressed with the creativity and hard work of the MACTC culinary students. The program would not be possible without their help," commented Dan Gorman.

Culinary students prepped and cooked over 360 pounds of Michigan butternut squash to produce 4,000 samples to be served to students over the two-day event at all eight school buildings in Montague and Whitehall.

On November 11, all students and staff in the Montague School District were be able to sample the new creations.  The following day, on November 12, all students and staff from Whitehall Schools enjoyed the flavorful items.

"The program offered a great opportunity for our students to get real-world experience in developing recipes, large scale production, direct service to the guest, and evaluating results," said Elissa Penczar.

Funding for this effort is made possible by the MI Farm to School Grant program and Mercy Health Community Benefit Initiative Grant programs.