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Detroit Schools Celebrate Fresh Local Foods with Life after Ranch (Dressing)

Posted by Tecla Coleman-Sloan, MS, RD; Child Nutrition Programs, Food and Nutrition Service in Food and Nutrition
Aug 04, 2021
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Students enjoy school-grown produce.

June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month!  To celebrate, we’re showcasing the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD), and their amazing work getting students engaged and excited about fresh fruits and vegetables.

There really is life after ranch dressing!  Just ask District Executive Chef for DPSCD, Kevin Frank, who won over students with flavorful new salad dressings made with blueberry and strawberry purées.  Since ranch dressing is the nation’s most popular type of salad dressing, that’s no easy feat.  Now, there’s a marked reduction in food waste and students are even consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables!

Fruit-based salad dressings aren’t the only transformation.  Numerous changes occurred under former Executive Director for the Office of School Nutrition, Betti Wiggins, who recently joined the Houston, Texas Independent School District Nutrition Services Department.  Before her arrival, DPSCD outsourced its school nutrition program and incorporated little local produce in their meals.

Wiggins led a complete turnaround.  She brought the food service program back in-house, eliminated deep fryers and increased spending on food rather than on administrative costs – going from 23 to 51 percent spent on food, all while maintaining a financially viable program!  These changes made way for more local fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain foods, and lean meats and fish to be on the menu, plus allowed more control over the amount of sodium, creating school meals full of flavor with less salt.  Under her leadership, all DPSCD students can eat free school meals, thanks to the Community Eligibility Provision, which allows schools and districts with high poverty rates to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students.  All without the burden of collecting free and reduced school meal applications.

Wiggins also established a farm to school program known as the Detroit School Garden Collaborative, one of nearly 80 school gardens throughout DPSCD!  The largest and most bountiful is Drew Farm, a three-acre organic farm operated by young adults 18-26 with special needs, who attend DPSCD’s Drew Transition Center vocational school.

Over two dozen crops are grown at Drew Farm, including the mixed baby greens that accompany Chef Frank’s popular salad dressings.  Anything that doesn’t end up on the menu is sold at a low cost to the public.  Those who participate in SNAP Double Up and WIC Project Fresh also benefit from the crops grown here.  In 2015, DPSCD was awarded a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant, which enabled them to purchase a high tunnel to enhance their capacity to grow food year-round. Between spring 2015 and March 2017, the Office of School Nutrition grew over 40,000 pounds of food at Drew Farm, with 75 percent going to school cafeterias, 20 percent going to school communities (school farm stands) and 5 percent used in classrooms for nutrition education.

DPSCD Farm to School Program Manager, Monica DeGarmo, extends fresh fruits and vegetables beyond the cafeteria into the classroom.   Students can visit Drew Farm throughout the school year to see where their food is grown.  The district’s Office of Science supports farm to school efforts by training teachers to integrate gardening into their curriculum.  While families and community members are invited to participate in Family Farm Days and Fall Harvest Festivals. Also, The Greening of Detroit, an urban agriculture non-profit, collaborates with Farm to School to hire 100 DPSCD students during the summer to care for the school gardens.

According to acting interim Executive Director Sidney Vinson, 12 acres at Mackenzie Elementary, near Drew Farm, will be repurposed into a mixed use school community outdoor space.  With so much space to grow, Chef Frank will be quite busy developing new recipes!

Take time during National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month to learn more about farm to school programs. Check out the Office of Community Food System’s Webpage, and explore local and regional food systems in your community via the Local Food Compass Map and the USDA Farm to School Census.  Access free garden-based nutrition education curricula, by visiting Team Nutrition’s Resource Library.  And USDA’s What’s Shaking? Creative Ways to Boost Flavor with Less Sodium, can inspire schools to foster creative ways to provide healthy, tasty school meals.

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Mixed baby greens for Chef Franks’ fruit-based dressings.
Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition