The Mix

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Mount Horeb Area School District Serves Up Local

An Interview with Michelle Denk, Food Services Director

Schools are doing local food right all across the country. For Mount Horeb Area School District in Wisconsin, it’s not a new idea. Food Services Director Michelle Denk says they’ve had a Harvest of the Month program for ten years. Now armed with salad bars from Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, their local procurement only gets better.

Over the course of the past decade, the Harvest of the Month program has expanded into the classroom and community. Last year, Denk assembled packets of dry beans with a short lesson. Each teacher received the lesson plan and made time in the beginning of their day to present it to the class. She hopes to develop more of these in-class activities this year with the help of two AmeriCorps members.

  • Number of kids served at Mount Horeb: 1,500-1,600
  • Percentage that are free and reduced: 17%
  • Number of local farms worked with in a given year: 2 or more
  • Kids’ favorite local produce: watermelon, popcorn, strawberry yogurt parfait (local dairy)

The harvest planning doesn’t end there. Posters line the cafeteria each month of the celebration, and cards are placed in the cafeteria to provide more detailed information on the featured produce. She also makes an announcement on the day that the item is being served, which includes information on where the produce was farmed. Parents receive communication in their newsletters as well. “We live in a great community and a have huge group of parents involved,” Denk said.

“We live in a great community and a have huge group of parents involved.” –Michelle Denk

Denk also values the farm-to-school relationships that her district has fostered—Vermont Valley Community Farm in particular. The local farm donates all of their seconds to the district. At the beginning of this school year Denk expects tomatoes, red peppers, and kolrabi. Donated produce sometimes surpasses their fresh, on-the-bar needs. In these cases, freezing can extend the bounty of the harvest. Denk uses the frozen veggies for recipes planned throughout the year. Other successful programs at Mount Horeb include:

Chef in the Classroom
This is a middle school initiative that is implemented with the help of an area Whole Foods Market team in which local food is incorporated into a sponsored class.

School Gardens
Two schools in the district—one elementary and one high school—have their own gardens and corresponding curriculum exists for each grade. Elementary students plant, harvest, and shuck corn for their annual popcorn harvest (math and science lessons are incorporated into this and other crops they grow). The high schools provide seasoned volunteers to help the younger gardeners. Family consumer science classes operate the high school’s hoop house and worm bin, both of which the younger students visit regularly.

Mount Horeb Food Services is looking forward to expanding their lunch program by procuring more local products and trying out new menu items. Next on the agenda? With the help of a dietetic intern, Denk plans on testing Lunch Box recipes this year. We’re certainly excited to hear all about it!