-Orono School District Farm to School Program
For Kris Diller, the impetus for the Orono Public Schools’ Farm to School program started one day when they served herbed roasted chicken legs in a school serving third to fifth graders.
“A young boy came up to tell us that there was a bone in his piece of chicken. He felt that there was truly something wrong – that the piece of chicken was defective in some way. Obviously, he’d only eaten chicken in the form of nuggets or tenders,” says Diller, who is supervisor of child nutrition with Orono Public Schools.That experience told Diller that more needed to be done in the schools to give students a better understanding of where their food comes from. Working with local farmers, parents and others, she and her staff embarked on a comprehensive effort to not only get students to understand the source of their food, but to try locally grown foods they had never experienced.
“Local farmers were very willing to come in and share their experiences and knowledge,” says Diller.
One of those farmers was Lisa Ringer, the owner of Two Pony Gardens in nearby Long Lake. Ringer brought in a variety of heirloom tomatoes during Farm to School Week last fall. The students – third through fifth graders – got to taste-test different tomatoes and got a sticker if they tried them. They ended up liking the heirloom tomatoes and a number of them remarked that they didn’t like tomatoes in general, but liked Ringer’s.
She also brought in her farm’s freshly made Chevre goat cheese for the older students to sample. “The students were nervous at first to sample the goat cheese but if one ate it, they would all try it. I was surprised by how many liked it,” says Diller.
During that same week, the middle school and high school had a farmer, Travis Baldwin from nearby Baldwin Vegetable Gardens, deliver peak-ripened cantaloupe for the students to sample. In addition, high school students ate Baldwin’s locally grown corn shucked by fellow students.
A local farmer donated a wide variety of squash for a display for grade school students. Their interest in the widely varying sizes, shapes and colors of squash sparked a vote on which one students liked best. The pink jumbo banana squash won (being the largest) and all the squash were later cooked and taste-tested by the students.
But for the elementary students of the Orono school district what really caught their attention was a cow—albeit not a real cow, but as close as you can get, short of a 1,400 pound Holstein tied to the playground equipment!
The life-size wooden cow, complete with working udders (and a mixture of real milk and water) visited all of the schools. Students got the opportunity to milk their “cow”. They loved the experience and it was eye-opening for some, including those who originally thought that chocolate milk came from a brown cow.
This year, the district will explore opportunities to further expand Farm to School. They are currently looking for a local farmer to help supply fresh produce for the high school and junior high salad bars. They also want to start a school garden that will not only grow a variety of vegetables for use in the school cafeterias but also receive composted cafeteria waste. If more produce is grown than the schools can use, they will consider selling it.
For Diller, Farm to School and the local food movement continue to be full of surprises. “I made the assumption that students knew where their food came from and was surprised to realize that many did not….I’ve also been surprised to see what an educational experience this is for the students.”
“The best thing about Farm to School is that it brings together teachers, students, support staff, parents and farmers to share in the enthusiasm. We hope to keep expanding it,” said Diller.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy would like to thank Steve Kinsella and staff at the Orono Public Schools for their help in preparing this article.