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Faces of the Network: Jenice Momber

Photo Source: Center for Regional Food Systems

Bear Lake Schools students enjoy local produce in their meals! Photo Source: MSU Center for Regional Food Systems Video

“It was just one of those ‘aha’ moments when I was at a local farmer’s market and I thought it was ridiculous that we weren’t buying that local food for our schools.”

Name: Jenice Momber

Job Title: Food Service Director for Kaleva Norman Dickson (KND) Schools, Bear Lake Schools, and Onekama Consolidated Schools in Manistee County, MI

Years on the job: Retiring after 14

Favorite recipe for school food service programs: “They’re all my favorite. I figure if I like them then the kids will like them.”

Most useful piece of equipment on the job: A wedger. Staff used it to slice fresh apples, including for a scalloped apples dish to serve during the holiday season.

Local foods purchased over the years: Apples, asparagus, blueberries, sweet corn, watermelon, radishes, cucumbers, multi-colored peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, cauliflower, carrots, spaghetti squash, dry beans, hot dogs, and milk

Students’ favorite local foods: Strawberries. They were most popular on the yogurt parfait bar every Friday and in smoothies at breakfast.

What’s one thing that people might not know about you? “I am an avid bird hunter.”

What’s next, after retirement? “I’ve been doing some cooking classes at my church, trying to help the younger generation know how to make home cooked meals. A new adventure is that I have started baking my own bread, and it’s been turning out pretty good if I do say so myself!”

In her time as a school food service director, Jenice is most proud of starting a farm to school program at her schools. The momentum really got going when she received a USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program grant, which allowed her to serve students new fruits and vegetables, such as jicama and mangoes, for snacks. Living in a rural area, most of the students were already familiar with gardening and fresh produce, but the snack program helped students to be more adventurous with tasting new and different foods. The stage was then set to incorporate more local, seasonal foods into the school menus.

Jenice worked together with Kathy Gutowski at Manistee Area Public Schools to request bids for local foods starting in 2008. She then went on to incorporate local, seasonal produce into the summer food service program at Bear Lake Schools, which was highlighted in a Michigan Farm to School video. (The summer food service program is no longer in operation there.) She received MI Farm to School Grants for both KND and Bear Lake Schools in 2011-2012 and then joined Cultivate Michigan in 2014.

For those who are just getting started with farm to school, Jenice suggests starting out small. “Try to just do one product per season. And choose foods that you know kids are going to like at first, before introducing in new things.” For school food service professionals who are already purchasing and serving local foods, Jenice suggests that they always look to the horizon to see what’s new. She recommends joining Cultivate Michigan and keeping up with MSU Extension in your local area to stay current and connected. “When your purpose and your pleasure is feeding kids, there’s nothing better than hearing students say ‘this is really good, you have to try this’ to their friends.”