Local foods, like these from Westfield's William Phelon that placed second in a produce judging at the Big E, will be served at school districts and colleges throughout the state during Mass. Harvest for Students Week.
By Courtney Llewellyn
Reminder Assistant Editor
The recent trend in economics is to buy American everything from toys to trucks to turtleneck sweaters. The Massachusetts Farm to School Project is pushing for locally bought goods as well.
This week, Sept. 24 - 28, will be the first time Massachusetts Harvest for Students Week takes place throughout the commonwealth. Over 85 school districts throughout the state, as well as 13 colleges, will purchase, serve and highlight locally grown foods in their cafeterias.
"This project is serving as a matchmaker between farmers and food service directors," Kate McKenney of the Mass. Farm to School Project said. "We're looking to provide healthy options for students in schools and support local economics at the same time."
The week serves as a celebration of the success of the Mass. Farm to School Project, according to McKenney.
Local school districts are enthusiastic about participating in Harvest Week. Joan Huhtanen, Director of Food Services at East Longmeadow Public Schools, said that the district will be serving one farm fresh item everyday.
"We're excited for this," Huhtanen stated. "There will be fresh apples and green beans from the farm being served." Farm fresh baked potatoes and carrot sticks will also be available during the week. "You can see the difference between fresh foods and store-bought foods," she added.
Huhtanen believes that the students will enjoy the fresh food and that their parents will enjoy it as well. "It will be interesting to see," she said. "We try to do something like this the last week of every month at East Longmeadow."
Other food service directors are just as optimistic. Julie Dougal of the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District said that she's always bought local apples from Green Acres Fruit Farm in Wilbraham for students. "We go through quite a bit of apples, especially in the fall," Dougal said.
During Harvest Week, the district will also be receiving fresh foods from Czajkowski Farm in South Hadley.
"Unfortunately, the growing season doesn't coincide with Northeast weather to provide fresh foods throughout the school year," Dougal said, "but I can see us continuing to serve fresh foods as long as we can."
Dougal works with the school district's produce purveyor to try to bring as many local fruits and vegetables to the schools as often as possible. "This is important and it's something people are looking for," Dougal said. "Buying local saves money and boosts the economy."
Hampden-Wilbraham schools will be serving fresh vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, corn and salad bar items throughout the week, as well as local apples and pears.
The Longmeadow School District has big plans for Wednesday during Harvest Week. "We've put up movie posters to pique the interest of kids in our own ratatouille," Andrew Stratton, Director of Food Services, said. Ratatouille is a vegetable dish consisting of onions, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, fried and stewed in oil. Most of the ingredients in the dish will be locally grown.
Fresh butternut squash, cucumbers, corn on the cob, green beans, apples and pears are also on the menu.
Like Dougal, Stratton realizes that providing farm fresh produce can be a bit difficult at times. "We try to utilize the fresh foods while we can, buying them when the pricing is comparable in the fall and the spring," Stratton said. The larger issues is delivering the foods to the numerous schools throughout each district.
"Local farmers usually drop off their produce at the high school, and then I deliver to the other five schools in Longmeadow," Stratton explained. "I want to continue to do this, though. I hope Harvest Week happens again next year."
The possibility of Harvest Week becoming an annual event looks promising. Support from government officials is prominent. The project received an official proclamation from Gov. Deval Patrick, and Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette and Congressman Richard Neal will be joining students to enjoy local foods for lunch at Lambert-Lavoie School.
Local farms in East Longmeadow, Wilbraham, Amherst, Belchertown, Chicopee, Granby, Hadley and South Hadley will continue to provide fresh foods to the schools when they are available. More than 40 farms across the state are currently selling produce to schools.
Most of the farms are located in Central Massachusetts, so the fresh food can easily be distributed throughout the state, according to McKenney.
For more information on the Massachusetts Harvest for Students Week, visit www.massfarmtoschool.org and www.mass.gov/agr/markets/Farm_to_school.