“If it wasn’t for the big crunch, we would not be doing farm to school right now. It forced us to prioritize getting a good partner to find good local apples and that started off all our enthusiasm.” – Caryn Elam, Food Service Director at Hart Public Schools
By Abby Harper - MSU Center For Regional Food Systems
October is National Farm to School Month. Across the country, schools and early childhood programs will celebrate their farm to school efforts and the small steps that have increased the amount of good, local food in school and early childhood program meals.
At Hart Public Schools, participating in the 2015 Michigan Apple Crunch was the one small step that kickstarted their farm to school efforts. The Michigan Apple Crunch is a one-day event, synchronized with the Great Lakes Apple Crunch, when students, teachers, and staff simultaneously crunch into a Michigan-grown apple. The event demonstrates support for and creates community around local food. Last year, over 400,000 people in Michigan participated. This year on October 13, we’re going for one million!
Hart Public Schools food service is provided through Chartwells, a contract foodservice company. In 2015, the company encouraged schools they serve to participate in the Michigan Apple Crunch. Caryn Elam, the food service director at Hart Public Schools, loved the idea of celebrating local food and investing in local farms, especially since her school district is located in an agriculturally rich district. The school business director served on the board of the National Asparagus Festival and knew of local farmers, and through him they found a Hart-based apple grower who was willing to sell apples for the Crunch. Then it was just about getting the whole school community on board. First, Caryn brought the idea to the principals. Once there was administrative support, many teachers voiced their support as well. Some teachers were hesitant about taking time away from lesson plans, so they came up with the innovative idea to have the Crunch over the intercom. Caryn brought bowls of apples to each classroom, and at 1:21 pm the whole school counted down and simultaneously crunched into 1,575 Hart-grown SweeTango apples. The Crunch became a huge school pride event; it was the first schoolwide event that included the Head Start and Great Start Readiness Program classrooms, and even their high school students got excited!
What started as one small step to purchase local food has made farm to school a priority at Hart, which has expanded beyond food service. Teachers started calling to ask about buying apples for classroom snacks, and everyone took pride in the Hart-grown apples. “We were just floored by how delicious the apples were. You don’t get kids coming in and complimenting you on fruit!” said Caryn. When the apple supply ran out in January, the kids and teachers noticed.
Now the whole district is falling in love with the idea of farm to school and is thinking big picture. Caryn has contracted with the apple grower to have apples set aside, stored, and made available through April 2017. In addition to apples, Caryn has started purchasing gourds, plums, and other fruits delivered straight to her door. In addition to continuing the partnership with the local orchard, Hart Public Schools is a 2016-2017 MI Farm to School Grantee and has built their farm to school program into their wellness policy. It all started with the Apple Crunch. “It just took one phone call!” Caryn reflected. “I didn’t at that point need a committee or a ton of planning, I just needed to go ahead and make a few phone calls and it just happened.”
What is one small step you are taking to celebrate farm to school this month? Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org or share them on social media. Don’t forget to sign up for the Michigan Apple Crunch!