Over the last 11 years, the School District of Holmen farm to school program has gone from buying a single type of local fruit to growing, buying and managing a variety of local produce and meat products. Their program is so impressive its been recognized in publications and beat out many local restaurants to win “2019 Best Of La Crosse County” for Farm to Table in the “Places to Eat” category.
All six of the schools in the School District of Holmen have gardens, and the high school has its own state-of-the-art greenhouse. Thanks to community members who volunteer their land, the schools are able to produce a Harvest of the Month every single month.
“We had a field of sweet corn that was about three acres that the kids planted. We had a watermelon patch that had almost 300 watermelons. They were huge, and kids love watermelon. They just went crazy over it. It’s really good stuff,” said Michael Gasper, Supervisor of Nutrition Services at School District of Holmen. “What’s interesting about these things—the corn, the watermelon, the squash, we’ve grown potatoes, we’ve grown just about everything—is kids actually plant it, cultivate it and harvest it. And we turn around and use that in our program.”
Mixing fun with food, School District of Holmen has invited local chefs to conduct cooking classes for their students featuring the harvest of the month so they could learn more about it. One of their first harvests of the month was Brussel sprouts.
“You would be very surprised that to this day we are still serving Brussel sprouts as one of our more popular vegetables, which is crazy because kids don’t eat Brussel sprouts,” said Gasper.
Four years ago, one of Gasper’s students with the Future Farmers of America program wanted to raise chickens and sell them to the school. After going over several hurdles, two of which included finding a USDA-approved processing plant and coordinating a purchasing program with their distributor, Gasper was able to make it happen.
After the chicken at the right age, it was sent to their processing plant, cut and frozen for the school. To celebrate, Gasper created an event called Winner Winner Chicken Dinner where all six schools were treated to the chicken that was raised. They also enjoyed Wisconsin-grown potatoes as one of the sides to make it as local as possible. Not only did the students enjoy being involved with the event, the outside world took notice as well.
“We won best concept award from [Food Management] which was kind of crazy because I didn’t even know they knew about it,” said Gasper. “That was kind of when we really started to make a splash.”
For the last three years, the students have also raised pigs. Each year they try to make sure there is enough meat to supply all six schools so that every student is able to be exposed to School District of Holmen’s farm to school program.
“With the pigs, we’ve made low sodium bacon that we use in the program, we do low sodium ham and we actually roast off these hams at Christmas time. We have…we call them guest chefs, but they are really our principals and different people throughout the district, and we dress them up like chefs and they carve the ham right on the line as kids come through, so we try to give them more of an experience,” said Gasper.
The newest thing for 2019 is raising cows. This year, their student-raised beef will be used during a celebration meal at the end of the year that honors their senior high school students. They had previously gotten the meat from a local farmer but are thrilled to be serving their own raised cows this year.
In addition to growing their own produce and raising their own animals, School District of Holmen does their best to buy whatever locally grown products are available through their distributor to feed their more than 3,800 students across the district. To serve many of these items, all of the elementary schools and middle school in School District of Holmen use Cambro Food Bars.
School District of Holmen has an 85 percent participation district-wide. This immense success is more than likely due to the high-quality food that is served and the amount of care that Gasper and his team put in to educate and entertain their students.
Are you ready to grow your farm to school program into something greater? Contact your Cambro rep today to find the right solutions for your school.