Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Farm to school documentary makes food the star

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 04/25/2012 9:33 PM

E-mail article | Print version

The premiere of the documentary, Farm to School: Growing our Future, was like a real Hollywood premiere, a Cannon Falls farmer said.

John Peterson of Ferndale Market said it was fun to take in the premiere, which included a reception beforehand, a red carpet and visiting dignitaries including the Minnesota Commissioner of Health Edward Ehlinger and president of Twin Cities Public Television, Jim Pagliarini.

Peterson served on a panel for a discussion following the premiere and on another panel following a screening at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

He senses a growing interest in farm to school, he's hearing about it in studies and reading things online.

Ferndale Market is named for John's grandparents, Fern and Dale Peterson. Dale Peterson started the family farm in 1939.

Ferndale Market has been selling turkey to schools for two years. They sell to about a dozen schools in a triangle extending from Owatonna and Rochester on the south to the metro area on the north, Peterson said. Their best customer is the Cannon Falls School District, which features Ferndale Market turkey every four weeks. Other schools will feature their turkey a couple times a year.

Peterson grows eight flocks of turkeys per year, receiving the birds as day old poults. The birds transition to range as they age and as weather conditions allow.

Selling turkey to schools is beneficial for him, Peterson said in the film, as schools want the more economical cuts for turkey sloppy joes and turkey chili while other customers are after the white meat cuts.

"We really enjoy working with schools because it is a truly mutually beneficial relationship," he said. "There are so few relationships out there where everybody wins and I think this is a perfect example of that.

Students get a healthy, nutritious meal, growers get a fair and consistent price for the work they are doing and the local economy gets a boost by keeping food dollars closer to home.

One of the benefits of farm to school is that students see where their food comes from, said Robert King, a professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Applied Economics, in the film. They may see a farmer or talk to a farmer. They learn what it's like to farm. That connection may be enough to get them to try a food they've never tried before.

Peterson has visited several schools that serve Ferndale Market turkey. He's spoke to classes, answered questions about farm life and been featured on a farmer john trading card.

"I really value that contact with end users," Peterson said in the film. "I think that's one of the things that's really missing in agriculture today. … So many farmers don't know the people who are consuming and enjoying their product. Myself and my family find that to be a very rewarding part of the process as well."

Schools are unique in that they can educate and tie agriculture and food into the curriculum, Peterson said. It's a perfect way to make the connection between farmers, consumers and food.

He hopes to continue growing farm to school and sees opportunities not only in extending the season for fruits and vegetables, but in broader thinking about what's actually grown in Minnesota. There's fruits, vegetables, proteins, dairy and whole grains. Other parts of the country would be jealous of the bounty grown and produced here.

Peterson may host a screening in Cannon Falls to recognize the school food service director who's done alot to introduce local foods into the school menu.

Another school district doing a lot with local foods in Dover-Eyota. Dover-Eyota superintendent Bruce Klaehn is featured in the documentary.

Dover-Eyota has dabbled in farm to school for three years. The movement was driven internally, Klaehn said. New USDA standards were coming and they knew they'd have to make changes to the menu. Food service director Carrie Frank started with apples and has since grown the farm to school offerings on the menu so much that in 2010-11 they didn't use their allotment of commodities from USDA.

Those items aren't being used on the current menu, Klaehn said.

He eats in the school cafeteria several times a week and enjoys the fresh fruits and vegetables. Students, he said, are more adventuresome when they are involved in producing the food or if they know where it comes from.

Some schools have faced hurdles in serving farm-fresh foods because school kitchens are built for heat and serve, but Dover-Eyota remodeled its high school kitchen in 2002. Cool serving areas were added then, Klaehn said.

There's a need for training school food service directors and a need for money for school kitchen redesign so there is money for steamers and salad bars, said Mary Story, a professor in the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

A school kitchen can cost $1 million to $2 million to remodel, said Barbara Mechura, nutrition services director of Hopkins Public Schools.

Whatever is done is sure to have a broad impact. There are 31 million children in the United States that have at least one meal a day in school. Of those, half are eligible for free and reduced lunch prices, Story said. Many may not have enough food at home and may get 35 percent to 40 percent of their total daily calories at school.