Schools in the Twin Cities area are using more fresh produce, and fresh-cut options offer flexibility and convenience, according to wholesalers.
“The initiative of more fruits and vegetables for schools has created a demand for individually packaged servings to meet their requirements and, we have seen increased volume,” said Marylou Owen, chief operating officer of G.O. Fresh Inc., a Minneapolis-based fresh-cut processor.
Fred Haberman, co-founder of Urban Organics, an aquaponics organic growing operation in St. Paul., Minn., said he thinks getting school children involved in the growing process is also important, although it’s difficult in the Twin Cities because of the climate.
“The thing about school gardens is that in North America, the kids aren’t really around for when the garden is really growing because it’s summer,” he said.
Although tours aren’t currently offered at Urban Organics, Haberman is excited about the possibility of teaching kids more about produce as a way to encourage them to eat healthier.
“Kids get excited about eating things when they’ve grown it themselves,” he said.
He also reports a lot of interest from local schools who want to learn about the aquaponics growing method.
“Teaching them the biology and the principles and science behind our food is important,” he said.
Other companies in the Twin Cities area are also working to increase produce in schools and give kids more exposure to produce.
Dean Schladweiler, produce manager with The Wedge Community Co-Op, Minneapolis, said the company has partnered with Co-op Partners Warehouse for a school taste-testing project.
“These taste tests happen three times per year, and 15,000 elementary school kids sample new healthy salads that will be appearing on lunch menus across the city,” Schladweiler said.
Gardens of Eagan, the farm owned by Wedge Co-op, will supply fresh farm-grown cucumbers and peppers, and the warehouse will be a distributor.
Phillip Brooks, chief executive officer of H. Brooks & Co., New Brighton, Minn., is also heavily involved in expanding the use of fresh produce in school lunch programs.
As one of the co-chairmen of Let’s Move Salad Bars to Midwest Schools, he is passionate about improving the health of the area’s children by helping with the produce supply schools have available to them.
“We’re absolutely making progress in getting more produce into school lunches,” he said.
Nina Brooks Haag, director of marketing and strategy for H. Brooks & Co., said she enjoys the opportunity to introduce kids to new produce options.
“It’s interesting to help them try more unique foods, anything from different root vegetables to kale and other dark green veggies” she said.
In addition, the company is participating in a CrowdRise campaign to help fundraise for the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Midwest Schools campaign, which Brooks said has been rewarding.
Many donations have been given from different companies, but there is still more to be done, she said.
More information is at www.crowdrise.com/mnsaladbars.