Farm to School program working well for Onekama schools

Manistee News Advocate
Published Thursday, November 4, 2010

ONEKAMA -- It’s pretty simple. If the food at a restaurant tastes good, the restaurant will be busy.

Onekama Consolidated Schools has found out that the same thing is true at a school cafeteria.

Since the start of the year, with the help of a $60,000 grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, Onekama schools has joined with Frankfort-Elberta and Benzie Central schools to offer students a Farm to School program that brings fresher local foods to their cafeterias.

According to Onekama superintendent Kevin Hughes, the number of students taking advantage of the hot lunch program this year is about 300 per day, up from about 100 last year. Hughes said he is particularly happy that many more teachers are eating in the cafeteria this year. "We've been able to convert the cafeteria from heat and serve to cut and cook," Hughes said.

The program got its start in 2004, when Tom Stobie became superintendent of Frankfort-Elberta Schools.

“Having more fresh foods in the cafeteria is a vision I had for a long time,” he said, adding that in 2005 he hired Renee DeWindt to be in charge of the cafeteria and she made that vision a reality. Currently DeWindt is an employee of the Traverse Bay Intermediate School District, which allows her to divide her time between the three districts.

When Onekama built a new kitchen as part of renovations that opened last year, they used a layout similar to Frankfort’s. There are large freezers and equipment to preserve food -- so large quantities can be purchased when it is in season and it can be served throughout the year.

Head cook Jan Exo serves local beef to U.S. Department of Agriculture employees Shelly Fuller and Alan Anderson. (Dave Yarnell/News Advocate took the photos on this page.)

Now the monthly menu at the school list the farms where most of the foods come from.

On Wednesday, the Alliance for Economic Success, which secured the grant from USDA Rural Development, invited staff members from the USDA Traverse City office to have lunch at Onekama schools.

“The Farm to School program is about partnerships where everyone wins,” DeWindt said. “Students like the new, fresh and innovative menus and are eating much more healthful foods.”

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