Nine-year-old Sam Ward said he found nasturtiums in the mesclun salad served as part of his snack the most interesting food he had tasted in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program at Rockland’s South School, and classmate Rachel Joyce agreed.

“They’re spicy,” she said of the edible flowers.

A federal program designed to address childhood obesity by helping children learn more healthful eating habits, the FFVP is inspiring local schools to create a variety of programs.

According to the Department of Agriculture’s website at www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/ffvp, the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program “…has been successful in introducing school children to a variety of produce that they otherwise might not have the opportunity to sample.”

On a rainy Tuesday afternoon at South School, students confirmed that statement.

Schools have flexibility in teaching about fresh foods

“There’s a lot of freedom in how to implement the [FFVP] program,” Regional School Unit 13 School Nutrition Director Charles Butler said March 30. “We chose to bring it right to the classroom.”

He said some schools use the fruits and vegetables for lessons that don’t relate directly to nutrition and agriculture. As an example, Butler said, a teacher could cut open a peach to help describe the earth’s layers.

Foods paid for under FFVP cannot be used as part of the regular menu.

“They want it to be an event on its own,” he said.

School Administrative District 40 Food Service Director Stormie Hendrickson said volunteers and a cooking club helped prepare the fresh foods for the FFVP at Prescott Memorial School in Washington. SAD 40 currently uses FFVP funds to bring fresh produce to students at Prescott and at the Miller School in Waldoboro.

Butler said RSU 13 could have decided to meet the educational requirements of the grant by placing a kiosk in a central location where students could choose to try the new foods, but elected to use a classroom-based approach developed by Good Tern Natural Foods instead.

Local retailer helps make food and learning fun

“One of my goals was to keep the process as simple as possible,” said RSU 13’s Butler. “Luckily, the Good Tern has taken the ball and run with it. They take the logistics out of our hands.”

Butler said the idea for a snack-based curriculum developed out of an initial conversation with Ellen Leidenthal, then general manager of Good Tern Natural Foods, and the store’s produce manager Glen Mills.

He said the University of Maine Cooperative Extension directed him to Leidenthal and Mills. Butler said Leidenthal’s lesson plans are full of interesting ideas, such as one in which students were served a mixture of young salad greens, known as mesclun, and asked to identify the different leaves on a chart.

“It’s beyond any expectation I had,” said Butler.

Funds come to a participating school in the form of a lump sum grant based on its percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Butler said this year’s grant was about $50 per student.

“You have to allocate a portion of it by the end of September,” he said.

He said one way to do that was to contract with vendors in the fall, to deliver food to the schools throughout the year. He said another early expenditure for the RSU 13 program was to purchase two sets of individual bins for each classroom. The bins are packed with the day’s food at Good Tern and later exchanged for empty ones from the previous lesson.

Early expenses may also include labor and other equipment to support the program.

“Good Tern co-op pretty much handles everything for us,” said Butler. He said the program began in the fall with apples from Hope Orchard and tomatoes from Green Arrow Farms in Searsmont.

A lesson plan from Good Tern Natural Foods’ Ellen Leidenthal

BLOOD ORANGE FACTS

Here is a fruit you don’t see every day! The Blood Orange is a sweet, juicy orange that tastes a little bit like orange and raspberry mixed together. The part that’s a little shocking is what you see when you peel it or cut it. The flesh of the Blood Orange is very dark – ranging from ruby to brilliant crimson to almost black! Its juice is also bright red.

HEALTHY REASONS TO EAT BLOOD ORANGES

Like all citrus, Blood Oranges have a lot of Vitamin C – more than 100 percent of what you need in a whole day is in just one fruit. They also contain folic acid, which helps cuts and other wounds heal, and calcium for strong bones. Remember how nutritional content increases with darker and darker fruit and vegetables? The Blood Orange is VERY dark – so it’s really packed with good things for your body!

DID YOU KNOW . . . The Blood Orange is also a mutation, something like the Red Bartlett Pear we had last week. The first type of Blood Orange was developed in an orchard in Italy in the 1700s. It is called the Tarocco Blood Orange and it is still grown today.

“Tarocco” is an expression in Italian that means, roughly, “Oh! How Wonderful!” Evidently, that was what the first farmer said, when he cut open the first Blood Orange and saw its amazing interior!

Butler said he ran the program himself in the past but it was a logistical nightmare.

“We had to contact all the farmers and growers,” he said. Butler said it only took two meetings with Leidenthal and Mills to get the program going this year.

“It’s one we can do in a gazillion different ways, but the end result is to get fresh foods in front of children who may not [otherwise] see them,” he said.

In October, that meant that each student was able to select a pumpkin from a big pile and bring it home.

Students sample new flavors, learn about what they are eating

Butler said his regular meals budget wouldn’t allow him to even offer students samples of some of the foods they now receive in their snacks twice a week.

“There’s stuff from all over the world,” he said.

“I found out I actually like mushrooms now,” said South School fourth-grader Caleb Bellen. He and other students said they were surprised to learn that the mushrooms served as food are small parts of a much larger organism. A lesson that tied apples and pomegranates to Greek mythology was also remembered and discussed. But Bellen said the most interesting lesson was the one he learned about the nectarine.

“They say it’s a mixture of a peach and a plum, but it’s not, really,” he said. “It’s just a non-hairy peach.”

Area farms supply food for thought

School Administrative District 40 is in its third year participating in the FFVP. Miller School’s current grant is about $16,000 and the Prescott Memorial School received a little over $6,000 this year.

“It averages out at $52 per student throughout the school, whether they’re on reduced lunch or not,” said SAD 40’s Hendrickson.

She said she received produce from several nearby farms including Spear Farm in Nobleboro and Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative in Vassalboro. Hendrickson said she occasionally got produce from Beth’s Farm Market in Warren. For each fresh food item, she produces a fact sheet that gives teachers information on the foods’ nutritional content and, in the case of some hybrids, history.

“It’s an awesome program,” said Hendrickson. She said vegetables such as rutabagas and purple carrots were unusual, and that some foods thought commonplace were also new to students.

“Surprisingly, we had students that didn’t know what a fresh pear was,” said Hendrickson.

Butler said each school must apply to the USDA yearly. The federal agency provides the state with a figure for the total grant, and schools at which at least 50 percent of students qualify for the income-based free and reduced lunch program receive funding.

“We’re fortunate,” said Butler. “We just got an email from the state.” He said the allocation for the coming year would be 30 percent higher than that of the current year.

Currently, South School in Rockland and Lura Libby School in Thomaston are the only RSU 13 schools involved in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, but Butler said five schools in the district are eligible and that his next application will include all of them.

The principal of each school must approve the educational component of the program, he said.

“Hands down, every single one of them wanted to do it,” said Butler.

Susan Boivin’s Aldermere Beef Stew

3 lb. Aldermere Farm beef sausage
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. olive oil
1 med. onion, chopped

1/2 c. roasted red pepper, chopped
2 tbsp. minced garlic
2 c. chicken stock (if not homemade use low-sodium)

1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
4 c. diced Maine potato
3 c. sliced Maine carrots water black pepper

Remove casings from sausage. Sauté in olive oil with onion and garlic, over medium heat, for approximately 20 minutes, or until sausage is no longer pink. Sprinkle flour over sausage mixture, cooking for at least 1 minute. Add chicken stock, peppers, and vinegar.

Cook 5 minutes, stirring often. Add potato, carrots, and enough water to just cover ingredients.

Simmer 1 1/2 hours on medium-low heat, add pepper to taste. Serve with a small dollop of sour cream on top (optional).

Serves 4 to 6.

Five Towns adds local foods to menu

While Camden Hills Regional High School’s eligibility for the free and reduced lunch program is rising, it now stands at about 18 percent, far below the 50 percent that would make the district eligible for federal subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables. Chef and Kitchen Manager Susan Boivin said the Five Town Community School District and School Administrative District 28 receive what she termed “a small subsidy” as a result of the schools’ participation in the National School Lunch Program.

“For each reimbursable meal sold, we receive a percentage back,” she said. The funding, which comes from the federal government and is administered by the state, depends on having 60 percent of students purchase the lunch. At Camden Hills, a lunch costs $3.

“For every fully paid $3 meal, we receive 34 cents,” said Boivin. A reduced price meal costs the student 40 cents with a government reimbursement of $2.49. The reimbursement for a free lunch, for which a qualified student pays nothing, is $2.89 from the federal program.

Boivin said students at Camden Hills have several choices to fulfill the nutrition requirements of the free and reduced lunch. She said most of the cafeteria’s a la carte menu qualified, with chips and snacks, large beverages, ice cream and coffee being notable exceptions.

Boivin said her goal when she became kitchen manager seven years ago was to return to preparing food from scratch at Camden Hills. She said she opened a freezer on her first day and found frozen blocks of egg, and other food products, designed to be heated and served.

“My own personal commitment, as well as [that of] the school board and superintendent, is to bring in as much local produce as possible,” she said. Boivin said her previous experience in restaurants made her comfortable with that concept. In 2005 she visited local farmers markets and made connections with growers and producers. Now her kitchen gets food supplies from at least six farms as well as Coastal Mountains Land Trust and Aldermere Farm.

Because the Camden Hills fresh food program is not subsidized, there is no requirement for an educational component, but Boivin said she likes to see students involved. In September, students shucked 125 dozen ears of corn, much of which is now stripped from the cobs and frozen in gallon-sized plastic bags.

“I work with the farmers to forecast what kind of volume I’ll be needing and purchasing,” said Boivin. She said Bowden’s eggs, apples from Hope Orchards and Oyster Creek mushrooms were among the locally grown and produced items cooked and served at Camden Hills. When Aldermere Farm donates food to the school, Boivin spends an equivalent of the value at another local farm.

The Camden Hills program includes locally harvested fish and Morse’s Sauerkraut. When asked if high school students ate much of this last item, Boivin responded in the affirmative.

“When it comes from Morse’s, they do,” she said. As for those frozen egg patties Boivin found when she arrived at Camden Hills seven years ago, “We had a competition to see how far we could toss them,” she said.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by e-mail at sauciello@villagesoup.com.