Celebratory events in recognition of National Farm to School Month are taking place across the country, and in many forms! Here in the Northeast, the Maine Department of Education chose to develop and execute their first ever Maine Harvest Lunch Week Menu Contest.
Schools were invited to submit a menu from a meal that was served to students during the designated Maine Harvest Lunch Week in late September. The theme this year was “Dig In to Local School Meals,” and participating schools and districts did just that! Schools incorporated local items across the lunch tray in creative and appetizing ways. The menu and photos of students’ trays were submitted to the department to be considered in the contest. Stephanie Stambach coordinated the effort and said that she saw it as one way “to promote the use of local foods in our schools… and to recognize schools for the work they are currently doing with Farm to School.”
Highly coveted seats on the judges panel were held by Stambach and Walter Beesley of the Maine Department of Education, Chef Mike Flynn, School Nutrition Director and Farm to School enthusiast, Lily Joslin, Maine FoodCorps fellow, and Heidi Kessler, Let’s Go! Program Manager. After considering each entry based on the description of local items, creative use of local products, total number of local products on the tray, and overall appearance, the field was narrowed down to three Maine Harvest Lunch Week frontrunners:
Mount Desert Elementary School’s menu featured fresh Maine lobster salad over organic baby greens with oven roasted tomatoes, locally grown apple crisp with cinnamon and raisins, a whole grain roll, and fruit.
Yarmouth School Department’s seasonal spread featured Sloppy Joe’s made with Maine Beef, local beets, carrots, apples, and potato salad.
Portland Public Schools’ mouth watering entry showcased a roasted chicken drumstick from Maine-Ly Poultry Chicken, honey roasted kale from Snell Family Farm in Buxton and Spring Break Maple and Honey in Smyrna, lentil salad with carrots from Lakeside Family Farm in Newport, local bell pepper slices and apples from Lakeside Orchards in Fairfield and a whole wheat roll from Amato’s in Westbrook.
The top three selections will receive free entry to the 2015 Tri-State (Maine, N.H. and Vt.) Child Nutrition Conference in May, along with a copy of Project Bread’s Let’s Cook Healthy School Meals cookbook, which were kindly donated specifically for this contest. All participants received a certificate of recognition at a Fall Informational Meeting on October 16, as an appreciation for their celebration of Maine-grown products.
A true community effort, preparing for the contest strengthened relationships at the local level, with some producers and local businesses donating to schools featuring local items on their harvest menus. And, everyone was pretty excited to see lobster on one of the menus. In Stambach’s words, “You can’t get more Maine than that!” After its successful first run, I think we can expect to see many more Maine Harvest Lunch Week Menu Contests in the future, with plenty of reason to celebrate the state’s local fare as a staple on school menus.
Now, who’s hungry?