Preparations are underway in many homes for the Thanksgiving holiday. Governor Ned Lamont and Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt would like to recognize the many hands that play a role in putting food on your table, including the more than 5,500 farm families in Connecticut.
“Connecticut farmers are an essential segment of our state’s economy—but also a critical component to the wonderful food that many of us gather around each Thanksgiving,” Governor Lamont said. “That is why, when preparing for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, consider using Connecticut Grown products–from delicious turkey to incredible deserts and other beverages, Connecticut farmers provide families with affordable and nutritious food options. Make this year a true Connecticut Thanksgiving with Connecticut Grown.”
According to the National Turkey Federation, 46 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving. Now is the time to place your order for a Connecticut Grown turkey. More than a dozen Connecticut turkey producers can be found atwww.ctgrown.govoffering fresh or frozen, heritage or grass-fed, pastured raised birds. Nearly all of the ingredients for your appetizers, sides, beverages, and desserts can be found by stopping by a holiday farmers’ market, farm stand, farm winery, brewery, or your local grocery store that features products from neighboring farms.
“From a Connecticut Grown turkey to potatoes, winter squash, Brussel sprouts, root vegetables, cranberries, greens, cheese, milk, beer and wine, we can, and do, produce it here,” says Department of Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt. “Farmers are the backbone of our nation and we are fortunate to have a diverse array of agriculture in Connecticut creating a bountiful harvest.”
If you are looking for ways to prepare your Connecticut Grown food, there are hundreds of recipes on our Pinterest board for you to try. We have you covered with traditional dishes, modern twists on a long-time favorites, and ideas for using up leftovers. Find those recipes, and more, by clicking here:https://www.pinterest.com/GrowCTAg/boards/
As you sit down with family and friends to celebrate all that you are thankful for, remember to thank a farmer.
If you’re an average Connecticut resident, you probably didn’t eat seafood more than once in the last week.
But you might, if you knew more about how to prepare different types of fish, shellfish and seaweed, and where to buy local seafood. You’d also be inclined to have seafood more often if you knew more about its safety.
Those are some of the key findings of the Connecticut Seafood Survey, a 2½-year project to better understand current eating habits and how best to make of all types of seafood – but especially the shellfish, seaweed and fish from local waters – a more frequent part of state residents’ diets. Half the residents surveyed said they eat seafood just once a week – which is out of sync with the Food & Drug Administration’s recommendations. The FDA says adults should eat two or more servings per week to get all the nutritional benefits their bodies need.
Celebrate our Nation’s Independence with Connecticut Grown Food
As you celebrate our nation’s independence this Fourth of July, choose Connecticut Grown foods for your holiday gatherings. “Farmers are the backbone of our nation and we are fortunate to have a diverse array of agriculture in Connecticut,” said Bryan P. Hurlburt, Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner. “Stop by your local farm store or farmers’ market as you prepare for the holiday weekend. Your purchase will support a local family business and nothing tastes as good as fresh, local, Connecticut Grown food on your picnic table.”
Berries are in full swing with blueberries and raspberries just starting and strawberries finishing up. Combine all three to create delicious desserts, salads and even breakfast casseroles. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite recipes from triple berry trifles to spinach berry salad on our Connecticut Grown Pinterest page with a “4th of July Treats” board featuring an array of red, white and blue dishes.
This holiday weekend also heralds the availability of sweet corn. While the early spring weather has put sweet corn a few days behind schedule, some farmers started picking this past weekend in anticipation of the upcoming holiday to stock farm stands. Others, like Dave Burnham of Burnham Farms in East Hartford, CT, will have it available this weekend. “Starting Saturday we will have sweet corn available,” he said. Stop by a farm stand or farmers’ market to pick up early butter and sugar sweet corn.
For the grill masters, Connecticut farmers offer a range of meats including chicken, lamb, and beef, as well as, bison and turkey. Whether you prefer wings, steak, burgers or sausage, rest assured there is something for everyone.
Use local honey or maple syrup to make your own marinade and toss together a salad using fresh Connecticut Grown greens as a healthy side. Find a meat, vegetable, honey and maple syrup producer near you at www.ctgrown.gov.
If a clambake is more your style, Connecticut’s coastline is home to an abundance of seafood, including oysters and clams. Shellfishing is an important component of Connecticut’s economy along with recreation and tourism industries. When selecting shellfish look for names such as Copps Island, Stella Mar, Mystics, and Ram Island or places including Fishers Island Sound, Noank, Norwalk and Thimble Islands.
Complete your appetizer trays with an award-winning Connecticut cheese and include ice cream, yogurt or milk from a Connecticut dairy farm family in your desserts. Don’t forget to visit a Connecticut farm winery or brewery for your favorite adult beverage to enjoy responsibly with friends and family.
From all of us at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, we wish you a happy and safe Fourth of July celebration.
Article and photo: Connecticut Department of Agriculture
Fresh from the field, Connecticut Grown strawberries are now ripening and ready to eat. Strawberries are the first fruit available in Connecticut and signal the arrival of summer for many residents who look forward to visiting one of the state’s pick-your-own farms.
“Visiting a Connecticut strawberry patch to pick your own is a wholesome, family fun activity,” said Bryan P. Hurlburt, Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner. “This type of activity supports local farms and farm families while generating millions of dollars in agritourism for the state’s economy. And, the best part of it all is that you get fresh Connecticut Grown strawberries to eat at home.”
While it’s early in the season, producers are reporting that picking is quite good. “Despite the amount of record breaking rain in April and early May, the strawberries crop is now experiencing excellent weather for maturing to ripening. The season is off to a great start and it appears that the production will be right in line for a successful strawberry season,” said Nancy Barrett, owner of Scantic Valley Farm in Somers, CT.
It’s a good idea to call ahead, or check the farms website, for daily updates as weather conditions impact availability. Sweet and juicy strawberries are also available now at farmers’ markets and farm stands throughout the state. Find one near you at www.CTGrown.gov/strawberry.
When ripe, strawberries smell wonderful and taste even better. As members of the rose family, this perennial plant is a good source of vitamin C, manganese, folate, and potassium. They are also loaded with antioxidants.
Strawberries should be plump and firm with a bright red color and natural shine. The color and fragrance of the berry, not size, are the best indicators of flavor. Once you get your strawberries home, wash them and cut the stem away to store in a cool place. If you plan to keep them in the fridge for a few days, wait to clean them until you plan to eat them. Rinsing them speeds up spoiling.
Strawberries can be used to make jams, jellies, shortcake, pie and more. They can also be pickled, especially when picked green or unripe, or frozen to use later in smoothies. Find more recipe ideas to create your own delicious dishes by visiting our Pinterest page at https://www.pinterest.com/GrowCTAg/.
Make plans to visit a Connecticut strawberry patch this weekend to create lasting memories and delicious, healthy dishes.
VERNON, CT, (June 13, 2018) – UConn Extension and the Connecticut State Department of Education is currently inviting school food service professionals across the state to sign up for the Put Local on Your Tray Program in the upcoming 2018-19 school year. Schools and districts that sign up will get help increasing fresh, locally grown products in their cafeterias. Sign ups will be open until the new school year starts in September.
According to USDA’s 2014 Farm to School Census, over 70% of schools in CT are offering farm to school programming, which might include hands-on activities in school gardens, cooking classes after school, and/or serving local food in the cafeteria. CSDE and UConn Extension are now partnering to increase school commitments to more purchases from local farms. Districts who sign up for the Tray Program will pledge to feature local ingredients at least twice per season(s) of their choice. Schools choose the Farm to School promotional activities that fit their needs. For example, activities might include: hosting a special taste test in the cafeteria (e.g. kale chips), marketing the products they regularly get from local growers (such as milk), using a holiday or celebration day on the calendar to feature local produce (e.g. new varieties of apples promoted during CT Grown for CT Kids Week), or integrating a recipe into their regular menu that relies on local ingredients for several months (e.g. winter root slaw).
Last year, there were a total of thirty four districts who took the pledge. The program is in its second year and continues to learn, grow, and adapt as Farm to School grows. We hope to see an increase this year, with a goal of fifty school districts. Yolanda Burt, Senior Director of Child Nutrition for Hartford Public Schools and contributor for the Program’s suite of tools, thinks districts need to define ‘local’ for themselves. She states, “Our definition of local includes what is grown and processed within 250 miles of Hartford, and/or purchasing food from small businesses to support Hartford businesses and further job creation for Hartford residents.” Districts who sign up and take the pledge are encouraged to define the criteria for local products based on what is possible and meaningful to their community.
Food Service Director for Avon, Canton, and Regional School District #10, Maggie Dreher, says, “I believe we should provide our students with the freshest, tastiest ingredients possible. An apple is not just an apple, but a story – a potential place to connect to the community.” The Program welcomes those who are not a part of school food service to tell that story with Put Local on Your Tray communication materials, when educating children about local food. There is a materials request sheet available online, for interested school community members (teachers, parents, volunteers, etc.) to ask for any hard copies of our posters, bookmarks, stickers, etc. at http://putlocalonyourtray.uconn.edu.
Contact your school administrator or food service director to encourage them to sign up and be recognized and promoted as a Tray district! Many schools already supply local products, without necessarily promoting it as such (in items like milk, or certain produce from their distributors). Put them in touch with Put Local on Your Tray for credit to be paid where it’s due!
For more information please visit http://putlocalonyourtray.uconn.edu or call 203-824-7175. Put Local On Your Tray is a project of UConn Extension, in partnership with the CT State Department of Education, FoodCorps Connecticut, and New England Dairy & Food Council (NEDFC).
Put Local on Your Tray is a farm-to-school program helping Connecticut schools serve and celebrate regionally grown food. Even if you’re not a school, they have some advice for getting local onto your plate this season.
Days are getting slightly warmer and longer, the breeze is sharp, and the land is both awakened and nourished by fresh spring rain. Farmers are in a busy period of transition, from indoor planning and preparing for the height of summer – to the beginning stages of planting outdoors – making sure everything is ready to go. While there may not be an abundance of produce to choose from this month, there still are some special products to take advantage of for their especially sweet and distinct flavors of spring that they offer. For instance, mixed greens!
Spinach is our suggested local item to look out for – according to our Tray team Farmer Liaison, Shannon. After a long winter, the sugars stored in it’s leaves give it flavor hard to find any other time of year. Seen below, are rows of sweet greens growing at Massaro Community Farm in Woodbridge.
After a not-so-local food-filled holiday season (including, I must confess, raspberries, grown somewhere in South America, in a fruit salad), it might be a good time to get back on track. Though it can be more difficult in the winter, eating locally sourced foods is far from impossible in these mid-late winter months.
Eating seasonally can get a bit tedious over the long hard winter if your supply is limited by either amount or variety. But, many farmers are now extending their growing seasons with greenhouses, high tunnels and other production methods. You may find the fruits of their winter labor at a winter farmers’ market near you. Actually, there are at least 9 of these markets in the state—one is likely not far from you. Included are the Fairfield Winter Market; the Litchfield Hills Farmers’ Market in Litchfield; the New Milford Farmers’ Market; CitySeed’s indoor farmers’ market in New Haven; Stonington Winter Farmers’ Market; Coventry, Ellington, and Storrs Winter Farmers’ Markets in Tolland County; and Stonington Farmers’ Market. Check with the local market near you for hours, days and times: they are easily searchable on the internet. Some meet only once or twice a month, others continue to be open weekly.
Keep in mind that shopping at the farmers’ market in the winter is different than in the summer—or than in a super market in the winter. The food choices will be different. You might find beets, carrots, celeriac/celery root, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, salsify, sweet potatoes, turnips, and winter squash. If you are not familiar with, let’s say, kohlrabi or rutabaga, type the name into your favorite search engine (or leaf through a good general cookbook) and you will be sure to find a tasty recipe or two.
You might also discover Belgian endive, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chicories, curly endive (frisée), escarole, kale, radicchio, and spinach or other greens that are being produced in high tunnels or greenhouses.
Hearty leafies like escarole, chicories, endive and radicchio make a great base for a winter salad. Because they have stronger flavors than the usual romaine or ice berg, they make a great base for other seasonal foods. Try escarole or arugula with pears and walnuts. Or try making a coleslaw with red cabbage and shredded kale—it is really delicious with dried cranberries or chunks of fresh apple added.
Flavor your winter veggies with leeks, onions and shallots. They can pretty much all be used interchangeably, but there are subtle flavor and pungency differences that may lead the eater to favor one over another. Try them raw, in salads; cooked, in just about any soup, stew, stir fry or casserole; or roasted, alone or mixed with other winter vegetables.
Winter fruits and vegetables are not the only edibles to be found at the winter markets. Connecticut producers of beef, lamb, pork, chicken and even, in one market, duck, are found at all of the winter markets. Pick up potatoes, carrots, onions and beef or lamb for a Connecticut grown stew! Connecticut shoreline sourced seafood, including clams and lobster, is sold at several markets. Eggs, milk, yogurt and a wide array of artisan/farmstead cheeses are available as well. Locally produced animal protein foods can be a bit more pricey than the supermarket variety, but one taste and you will know that is was worth it. Give them a try and you will be hooked.
Finally, you might be lucky enough to find maple syrup, honey, locally produced cornmeal, dried beans, or pasta sauces made from Connecticut grown tomatoes, pickles and relishes made from a variety of vegetables from local farms.
And, keep in mind that the mid-winter diet calls for some seasonal vitamin C. While not grown locally, citrus fruits are certainly a seasonal food. It makes sense to add them to your grocery list at this time of year-even if you know they won’t be found at your local farmers’ market. First of all they provide vitamin C and other nutrients that might be difficult to find in a limited seasonal diet. Look for those grown in the US, including Texas, Florida, Arizona, and California, if that will make you feel better (local can be defined as you see fit, here!). Sliced oranges are great in winter salads made of a mixture of radicchio, escarole and endive. The sweetness of the oranges offsets the bitterness of the greens. Finish with some balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil. You can also use dried cherries or cranberries in this salad along with some walnuts or pecans.
Sprinkle orange juice over cooked beets or carrots, or use the rind in cranberry bread. Limes and their juice are often used in recipes that are Indian, Central American or Caribbean in origin. A bit of lime juice along with a handful of cilantro will make a black bean soup even better.
For more information on eating locally and seasonally, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at email@example.com or 1-877-486-6271 for more information.
OK, I admit it…. I just cannot eat totally “local” and “seasonal” during the winter. It’s just too hard at this time of year. And, also, so many cold weather menus and winter celebrations revolve around aromas, flavors and sensations that come from foods that do not grow in New England.
While you can still find locally grown root vegetables, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and apples, nary a Clementine or pomegranate, (they are seasonal, after all) is produced in Connecticut. Sure, I love hot locally produced apple cider and winter squash soup, but often I am reaching for cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to give seasonal flavor. A little bit of the imported stuff sure adds to the enjoyment of a seasonal diet when variety of locally produced foods is limited. So bring on just a taste of the far away and console yourself with the knowledge that some of these foods are seasonal—somewhere. Also, the transportation of the spices of life can’t possibly put too much of a strain on our oil reserves.
Some of my favorite winter imports
Clementines: December just wouldn’t be December without a box of Clementines on my counter. We go through boxes and boxes in just a few months. An easy-to-peel citrus fruit devoid of seeds (usually) and sweet and juicy…who could ask for anything more? Clementines are a fruit of the mandarin family, whose origins could have been in China or Algeria, depending on who you ask. Much of the fruit comes to the United States from Morocco and Spain. While Europeans have been blessed for years with the availability of this orange gem, the market in this country was created when there was a failed Florida citrus crop in the late 1990s. California Clementines are also available.
Cinnamon: The intense flavors of spices come from seeds that are dried and ground (the leaves of aromatic plants are referred to as “herbs”). Cinnamon has a long and interesting history. It was once so precious that wars were fought over it! Originally grown in Ceylon, a colony at various times of the Dutch, French and English, by the 1890s, Borneo, Sumatra, and Java were among the countries that cultivated cinnamon. Today it is also grown in South America and Caribbean countries. This spice is derived from the bark of a bush in the laurel family. You may use the ground form or the cinnamon “stick”, a curled up piece of the bark, also called a “quill.”
Pomegranates: The pomegranate is native from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India and has been cultivated throughout Mediterranean region since ancient times. Today, it is grown throughout India and the drier parts of southeast Asia, Malaya, the East Indies and tropical Africa. Spanish settlers introduced the tree into California in 1769. In this country it is grown for its fruits mainly in the drier parts of California and Arizona. While produced most commonly for its juice or fruits that can be eaten out of hand, all parts of the tree have been used as sources of tannin for curing leather. The rind and flowers yield dyes for textiles. Today, pomegranates are sometimes included in lists of super foods. This is because they are full of anti-oxidants, which may be of benefit in staving off cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases.
Nutmeg: I chose to feature nutmeg, because after all, we are the Nutmeg State! This could have been because trading ships brought nutmeg to our shores or, perhaps more interestingly, because peddlers used to try to pass off wood carved into nutmeg look-alikes to unsuspecting Connecticut settlers. Nutmegs come from an evergreen tree that is indigenous to southeast Asia. The nutmeg is the egg-shaped seed of the tree that is dried and sold whole for grating or as a ground spice. The cuisines of many countries, including India, the Middle East, Europe and Japan all enjoy a touch of this sweet spice. Our Connecticut holiday tables are likely to be graced with mulled cider, pumpkin pie and eggnog redolent with nutmeg. Today, nutmeg is produced primarily in Indonesia and Grenada.
Try a little nutmeg on your locally grown brussels sprouts. Of course, you will need to sprinkle some on the eggnog you make from Connecticut eggs and milk. Cinnamon in your cranberry sauce….a Clementine for an afternoon pick-me-up…..and a sprinkling of pomegranate berries on the salad made with farmer’s market spinach can add color, flavor and even some valuable vitamins to a New England winter meal.
Cilantro: Well, this herb is not commonly associated with winter, but as we are often cooking up chili or black bean soup during the colder months, I often head to the produce aisle for a bunch of cilantro. Cilantro is generally imported from Central America year around, but sometimes can be bought locally grown in the summer. And, of course, freezing the summer crop would be a good alternative to buying imported cilantro in winter. Unfortunately, cilantro (or coriander as it is sometimes called) has also been associated with more than its share of foodborne illness outbreaks. So, be sure to wash well before using, in cold running water. And if you have a compromised immune system, you might want to forego the cilantro altogether.
For more information, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-877-486-6271.
There is nothing quite like a fresh fall apple, crunchy sweet/tart and delicious. Fast forward to that supermarket apple in April. Mushy, grainy textured, with significantly less crunch and flavor. The season for apple growing usually comes to an end in November in Connecticut. Through the wonders of modern technologies and refrigeration, local orchards can keep apples long into winter and spring. But availability may come with a cost—flavor and texture may be altered.
So, why not take advantage of the abundance of local apples (and, perhaps pears as well) right now? Consider dehydrating them. A rather low-tech, almost food safety issue free, easy home food preservation method that can yield a sweet, midwinter snack.
Drying is one of the oldest methods of preserving foods—you will often see apple rings strung and hung up near the wood stove in displays of colonial kitchens. For moist foods, such as apples, dehydration includes increasing both the temperature of the food and air flow to allow for evaporation and removal of moisture.
Successful dehydration happens when you have the right balance of temperature and humidity. If there is too much humidity (which often plagues us in the Northeast) or too low a temperature, you may end up with moldy apples or fruit that could be contaminated with spoilage organisms or the bacteria that cause foodborne illness.
Dehydrating apples in your home kitchen
So, in your home kitchen you will need to employ both a source of heat and a method for removing the moisture from the air around the apples. The best and most efficient way to dry apples is to use a food dehydrator. These appliances are easy to find online and at retailers that cater to those who use dehydrated foods to lighten the load on camping or fishing trips. They range in size and cost. A small, stackable round unit will take up little space and cost as little as $30. You may often add more trays to increase your output. However, you do run the risk of uneven drying with these machines. Food closest to the heating element will dry fastest. Regular attention to rotating the trays is essential. This may be a good, less costly, way to get your feet wet.
Larger box type dehydrators with trays cost more ($200 or more). Some have timers; most have thermostats and more variations in heat settings. They may dehydrate more evenly, depending on the placement of the heat source—to the back vs the bottom or top of the unit.
You can also use your oven if you are just starting out and are not sure this is something that you will be doing on a regular basis. You will need to use an oven that can be set at a very low temperature—140-150 degrees F. Temperatures that are higher than this will lead to case hardening: the surface of the fruit dries and hardens while the interior stays moist, allowing for the growth of microorganisms and molds. A convection oven is great because of the increased airflow. But, you can also prop your oven door open a few inches and even place a fan to one side of the open door to drive off the moist air.
Preparing your apples
While most apples dry well, some prefer the quality of Gala, Fuji, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Empire or Cortland. Experiment to find your favorite.
Pick high quality apples, the fresher the better. Wash them well and remove any signs of decay. Slice in 1/8 to ½ inch slices. The thinner slices will dry firmer—like chips. You can peel the apples or leave the peels on. Peels can toughen during the drying process, so, again, experiment and see what you like best.
Pretreat the apple slices with a solution of lemon juice or ascorbic acid (vitamin C). This will help to minimize browning and may have some antimicrobial properties as well. If using ascorbic acid, stir 2 1/2 tablespoons of pure ascorbic acid crystals into one quart of cold water. For smaller batches prepare a solution using 3 3/4 teaspoons of pure ascorbic acid crystals per 2 cups of cold water. Alternatively, combine equal parts of bottled lemon juice with water (one cup water and one cup lemon juice). Soak the apple slices for 10 minutes, drain, and they are ready to dry.
Generally, dehydration of apples is accomplished at around 140 degrees F. It can take as little as 5 hours or as long as 24 hours depending on your dehydrator/oven, the humidity in the air that day, and the thickness of your apple slice. This alone may be a good reason to invest in a smaller dehydrator rather than keeping your oven on for hours and hours.
Once you think they are done (should at least be leathery if not crisp), let the apples cool. Place them in a glass jar or air tight plastic container for several days. If moisture begins to collect on the surface of the container, you have not dried the apples long enough. Put them in the dehydrator or oven for several more hours.
You can store dried apples at room temperature in a cool, dry, dark location. A glass jar or air tight plastic will work. Use freezer bags if you want to use plastic bags. Regular food storage bags may let moisture in. They will be fine to eat for six to twelve months. If there are signs of molding or spoilage, then discard them.
For more information about dehydrating apples or other foods, visit the UConn Food Safety website at www.foodsafety.uconn.edu or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at email@example.com or 1-877-486-6271.
To our neighbors across the ocean, lunch in American schools is evidence of our culinary inferiority. The fact that one third of the nation’s children are growing up overweight and obese leads many to point a finger at school food. But in reality, the age of sloppy joes and tater tots is steadily giving way to salad bars, sweet potato fries, and vegetable chili. Major changes and healthier regulations for school meals that began in 2014 have shifted the menu toward whole grains, less sugar, less sodium, and more vegetables and fruit.
In fact, school meals are a vital part of a federal child nutrition strategy that provides healthy food to children and helps fight hunger and obesity. With the new emphasis on healthier meals, a wave of innovative efforts to add fresh, locally grown ingredients have emerged across the nation. These farm-to-school initiatives typically include school gardens, field trips to farms, nutrition education, as well as menus that feature seasonal flavors.
In Connecticut, the Put Local on Your Tray pilot project (Tray Project) helps Connecticut school districts source, serve, and celebrate a different local food product each month. Led by UConn Extension in close partnership with the Connecticut State Department of Education, the Tray Project has developed promotional materials to support school districts willing to feature one locally grown and seasonal product each month.
The Tray Project uses alluring and vibrant marketing materials including posters, stickers, and newsletter templates to educate the students about featured local foods. Using fun and engaging food puns such as “Kale, Yeah!—Don’t kale my vibe” or “Oh Snap!—I’m a Lean Green Bean Machine” have been key to generating a sense of fun and celebration around the new school lunch menu. The Tray Project assists participating school districts in building connections with local farms, sourcing local produce, and ensuring that cafeteria staff has what they need in order to process and serve fresh produce.
“This program has proved to be an invaluable component of our educational efforts at Middletown Public Schools to connect our students to local farms and agriculture while promoting overall wellness to enhance and maximize student achievement,” states Ava McGlew, MS, RD, CD-N, Food Service Director Middletown Public Schools.
Unlike similar ‘Harvest of the Month’ programs from other states, the Tray Project does not specify a month that each product should be used. This approach recognizes the true seasonality of produce young leaders for a year of paid public service building healthy school environments in limited resource communities. FoodCorps members build school gardens, teach nutrition and cooking, and help bring locally grown ingredients into the cafeteria.
“When kids have an opportunity to learn and engage with fruits and vegetables in a positive way, they are much more likely to eat them. “in Connecticut (e.g. kale is available from August through December in our state) and gives more flexibility to the school food service director who is making decisions about when to purchase and use a featured local ingredient.
Program Coordinator Dana Stevens and Outreach Coordinator Catherine Hallisey are currently working with four school districts including: Windham, East Hartford, Middletown, and Deep River. There are plans to expand to 15 districts for the 2016-2017 school year.
Over 2,000 students have participated in an interactive component of the program known as Local Tray Days. The Tray Project works with school districts to select one date for a cafeteria taste-test using kid-friendly recipes, and a second date, when the sampled local item is incorporated into the menu. Recipes include cider-glazed squash, kale chips, berry blast smoothies, and squash apple bisque.
“When kids have an opportunity to learn and engage with fruits and vegetables in a positive way, they are much more likely to eat them,” Dana explains. Students are asked to vote on what they thought of the local featured item. They can respond with one of the three options, tried it, liked it, or loved it.
According to USDA, schools report that farm to school programs can increase the number of students purchasing school breakfast and lunch, improve consumption of healthier foods at school, and reduce plate waste. There are 187 school districts in Connecticut, and 74 percent completed the USDA Farm to School Census. Of those, 70 percent are currently participating in farm to school activities, and another 19 percent have plans to start in the future.
Programs like Put Local on Your Trayare an easy way to bring more local foods into the cafeteria. By focusing on one local product each month, farmers can plan ahead to grow the food needed, and food service directors can build that local product into school menus. More local foods in schools results in more support for our farmers. This means more of our dollars stay in the community, and local economies are strengthened.
The Tray Project is a component of UConn Extension’s outreach and education on sustainable food systems, led by Associate Extension Educator Jiff Martin.