Maine farmers can feed Maine kids

I love a good story. Especially those that are true and heartwarming and told in a half-hushed voice over a hot beverage.

I heard this story about Maine farmers feeding Maine kids, from Chris Hallweaver of Northern Girl Growers. Northern Girl processes local produce and distributes bags of vegetables through Aroostook Foods of Caribou and the Crown o’ Maine Coop.

According to Hallweaver, they produce 150 pounds of carrot sticks each week for students all across Maine, along with other Northern Girl veggies. They sell to a couple dozen schools in Maine, including a school in Portland.

In addition to carrots, they also try to introduce the students to unique vegetables, ones they may not have tried before.

Enter kohlrabi. Have you ever had kohlrabi? It tastes like a cross between a turnip and a radish. And somehow tastes buttery on top of that. Along with having a very crisp, fresh texture. It’s on the high end of the vegetables, folks.

To think that kids in Maine schools are eating vegetables grown on Maine farms warms my heart. Not so far back in our New England history, it was unheard of to eat copious amounts of food that had been grown far away. A single orange was a Christmas present. Even though grown on American soil, citrus fruits were once considered a delicacy, an “export” of sorts.

Now? The local food economy has been blindsided by the commercial food industry and avocados are equally represented in grocery stores as potatoes and blueberries.

However, the local food movement is slowing starting to gain in strength. The best advertising for local food is simply providing facts about the detrimental effects of commercial agriculture on public health and the environment. As we hear reports of GMOs and bad diets and salmonella, suddenly those farmer’s markets look like utopia in a parking lot.

And to think – students in Maine are provided with these vegetables during their school lunch. Absolutely the best thing ever.

To top it all off? Hallweaver gave me some good news. The USDA has recently approved a nearly $100,000 grant to Portland schools:

Portland Maine Public Schools’ (PPS) proposes to implement best practices to increase local products consumed by students in the school meal program through innovative purchasing strategies, innovative processing strategies, and increased experiential nutrition education. Our goals for this project are to increase the proportion of local food purchased by the PPS Food Services Program, increase student consumption of local food, and to increase public awareness and community engagement in our efforts.
The project plan includes updating central kitchen equipment, certifications, and training in order to become a large volume processor of local foods. The project plan also includes a number of experiential learning activities such as school gardens, after‐school agriculture clubs, school curriculum, taste testing, and chef‐to‐school. Finally, we propose  to build awareness regarding the district’s farm to school successes through the development of promotional materials, developing a media plan, and holding an

annual “Local Food Show” open to the public exhibiting the farms, recipes, and student projects related to farm to school.

Can I get an ‘amen’? Just in time for the holidays, my good old state gives me hope. It’s a great story – where folks in Portland and folks in other schools recognize the value of supporting our local agricultural economy while simultaneously improving the health of students.

Nothing beats a step in the right direction.

Jenna Beaulieu

About Jenna Beaulieu

Jenna is a writer and fine art photographer who recently moved from the Saint John Valley region to Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island. She’s a fan of excellent music, homemade gravy, and colored pencils (also, short books and long books, good pens, flannel, and when the June bugs don’t really come out much that year). For more about Jenna and her work, visit her website at www.jennabeaulieu.com