From farms to trays, Minnesota students eating food sourced locally
In November 2022, Shannon Nowak, director of nutrition services at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Public Schools, applied for a grant that kick-started the Farm to Tray program.
GLYNDON, Minn. — Dozens of excited middle schoolers formed a line in the cafeteria at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Middle School on Tuesday, May 9, excited for a new menu that included locally grown and raised food.
Smoked meatballs. Bratwurst. Microgreens. Stir-fried potatoes. The favorite? Banana bread.
“It’s really good, I like it. I can taste all the flavors,” eighth grader Carlos Garcia said.
His classmate, Madi Bjerke, agreed, adding she’s happy the food is coming from her neighbors.
“It’s great that this all comes from local businesses, which we need to support. It’s so much better than coming from a place like California, or somewhere, where we don't know what they put in it,” Bjerke said.
In November 2022, Shannon Nowak, director of nutrition services at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Public Schools, applied for a grant that kick-started the Farm to Tray program, getting locally raised and grown food into the school cafeteria. In February, she received news that the grant was approved.
“So, I went out and started seeking out farmers. We need to buy products that are raised or grown by Minnesota farmers. I took to social media and put out that we are searching for local farmers to work with," she said. "Right now, we have seven of them that we are working with."
One of the suppliers, Rickford Ranch, supplies beef from a herd of about 200 cattle. Owners James and Jennifer Rickford said using fresh and homegrown ingredients for food will help children develop good habits in the future.
“And they learn where their food comes from, that it comes from a farm,” Jennifer Rickford said.
A local state-authorized plant processes the beef, and then the Rickfords personally deliver mostly ground beef to the school, James Rickford said.
Linda Briard, of Ulen, Minnesota, supplies microgreens to the school district.
“And they have 40 times the nutrition and have a lot of flavor. With supply chain issues, the produce wasn’t fresh before, and there were pesticides. This here is completely organic,” said Briard, whose company is called LateBloomer Microgreens.
Joe O’Keefe, Dilworth Elementary principal, said many students are questioning him about the program, and participation in meals is rising.
“We’re seeing an uptick and have had several comments about the lunch program. The kids think it’s pretty cool,” O’Keefe said.
Next year, the district will have 10 local farmers with the majority of them being from Barnesville, Moorhead, Glyndon, Halstad, Ulen, Vining and Owatonna, supplying locally grown ingredients like potatoes, whole wheat, honey, meats and vegetables.
“In the potato world, we’ve done homemade french fries, baked potatoes, locally grown beef, with hamburgers in a variety of ways, and today we are making smoked meatballs,” Nowak said.
Students gain from an added nutritional value to their meals, with reduced sugar and sodium content, and the local economy gets a hand up, Nowak said.
“The kids are absolutely tickled about it. They are pretty excited about things going local. Either way we go, we have to spend our dollars to buy food, and if we can buy locally, we are regenerating dollars back into the community,” she said.