“The objective is to connect school lunch programs to local farms,” said Benji Lynch, executive director of the Central Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District, “and to teach kids about agriculture. Being in an agricultural community, a lot of them know potatoes but they might not know that we produce a lot of blueberries or broccoli. Maine can produce a lot of food and we wanted the kids to see that.”
Eighteen farms and businesses donated items for the meal which included Maine baked potatoes, which could be topped with such items as homemade beef chili, homemade salsa and cheese; a garden salad, broccoli, corn on the cob, winter squash, homemade rolls, assorted apples, zucchini cake, brownies, fruit smoothies and milk.
Donating farms and businesses included Aurora Mills & Farm, Blackstone Farms, Bouchard Family Farm, Bradbury Barrel Co., Daniel and Lydia Yoder, Garelick Farms, Goughan Farms, Houlton Farms Dairy, Joe and Barb York, The Maple Moose, Maine Natural Oils, SAD 1 Educational Farm, O’Meara Family Farm, Orchard Hill Farm, Smith’s Farm, Sonnental Dairy, Stewart’s Farm, Wood Prairie Farm and Circle B Farms in Caribou.
Located on the East Presque Isle Road, the first 700 Highbush blueberry bushes were planted at Circle B Farms in 1986 and ‘87.
“The general public’s been doing a ‘You Pick’ since 1990 and it’s expanded from there. In 2002, we went across the road and planted another bunch for our commercial operation, and we’re now in grocery stores scattered from Houlton to Fort Kent and everything in-between,” said farm owner Sam Blackstone of Caribou, who donated a 10-pound box of frozen blueberries that were used for the fruit smoothies. “The Maine Harvest Lunch is a good way to promote the product. It’s a good program and I’d like to see more schools doing it.
“We’ve got to get the kids eating some fresh fruit and some fresh vegetables early in life and then they’ll follow through and that will create better dietary habits,” he said. “You’ve got to get them hooked on the fresh stuff early on.”
Lori Gilman, food service manager at the Easton school district, said last week’s Maine Harvest Lunch has been in the works since last spring.
“We always promote Maine products and foods but only in smaller segments — fruits, veggies, etc. When we were approached, we were asked to do a full menu of it. It’s a lot of work,” she said, “but we all thought it was a very worthwhile project to do.
“The kids really love potatoes and I asked them what they’d like to have and that was one of the things that they chose,” said Gilman, noting that the cafeteria staff prepared meals for 250 people. “In order to do a baked potato, you have to have toppings so we looked at our nutrition guidelines and came up with a sample of toppings including steamed broccoli, homemade chili, salsa, sour cream and cheese.”
Gilman said they tried something different with the squash.
“We usually use a little bit of brown sugar, but it was suggested that we try it with some maple syrup,” she said. “We drizzled the squash with maple syrup and that seemed to work pretty well. We also experimented with the zucchini and made it into a cake. I would say that more than 80 percent of the items used to prepare the meal were local.
“Our fresh foods really have a better taste, and it’s good to give the kids the chance to sample and taste a little of everything,” said Gilman, recognizing that the event wouldn’t have been possible without the support of staff, farmers and volunteers. “We’ve enjoyed it and hope that we can do it every year. I’d like to look at maybe some other products in the state some time like fish. The kids don’t have as much exposure to fish, so I think that would be something good to try.”
Easton’s first-ever Maine Harvest Lunch was also quite popular with the students.
“It was pretty awesome,” said first-grader Colleen Woodtke. “All the food came from area farmers, and the lunch was pretty good. I liked the corn on the cob, the brownie and the fruit smoothie.
“I liked seeing everyone dressed up, especially Spuddy,” she said. “Hopefully they’ll do this again next year. It’s important for people in Aroostook County to have farmers that grow all this stuff because we wouldn’t be healthy without it.”
The meal was funded in part by a Maine Ag in the Classroom grant, which is supported by the Maine agricultural specialty license plates.
A “Benefits of Eating Local” poster contest was also held to get students excited about The County’s agricultural communities and heritage. The poster contest, which was open to students in kindergarten through grade 6, was judged on the local foods message, creativity/originality, visual effectiveness and neatness.
Winners included Amelia Bate (kindergarten), Jenna Cochran (first grade), Kaitlyn Hurley (second grade), Paul Bonner (third grade), Ashley Cowley (fourth grade), Brenley Fredette (fifth grade) and Katelyn White (sixth grade), who was also named the grand prize winner.
“In the center of my poster is a picture of Maine and around it I have lines pointing to different locations around Maine and off to the side I put things like, ‘Fort Fairfield — corn,’ ‘St. John River — trout’ and ‘Bar Harbor — lobster’ and little pictures of whatever the product was,” said White. “I also put facts like, ‘Maine’s corn grown in Aroostook County is mainly used for cattle and chicken feed’ and ‘If every house in the state of Maine spent at least $10 on local foods, our state would be at least $100 million richer.’”
White was awarded a ribbon, and a basket filled with gift certificates to Stewart’s Farm, Houlton Farms Dairy, whole wheat flour from Aurora Mills, and ploye mixes from Bouchard Family Farm.
Lynch said he’d like to continue the Maine Harvest Lunch Program in Easton next year, and expand it to other schools, as well. The program started in the Gorham school system in 2003.