Child Nutrition Directors are generating buzz by incorporating winning dishes from high school junior chef competitions (JCC) into school menus. And the idea of providing students an opportunity to impact school meals is spreading!
From the east to west coast, students of all ages are learning vital culinary skills in state competitions that last a lifetime. These competitions capture student interests in local agriculture and create an alternative market for producers via the USDA’s Farm to School Program, which helps child nutrition operators incorporate local foods into their school lunch programs.
One state competition has gone viral in the Southeast. Robin Bailey Jr., Southeast Regional Administrator for the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), recently announced at Kentucky’s Farm to School Jr. Chef Competition, that the Kentucky state competition helped prompt Southeast Child Nutrition state agencies to work with FNS’ Southeast Regional Office to develop a regional JCC where winners of Southeast State JCCs will come to compete. As a result, Kentucky will host the winners of eight Southeastern State JCCs on May 9, 2018 for the first annual Southeastern Regional Level Jr. Chef Competition.
For five years, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) has sponsored the Kentucky Farm to School Jr. Chef Competition, connecting students with Kentucky Proud farmers and ranchers. According to Tina Garland, KDA Administrator Branch Manager for Farm to School, “the Jr. Chef competition provides opportunities for students to further their culinary career and connect to local producers in support of local food systems.”
This August, at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds in Louisville, hundreds of students from across the state competed for a chance to earn Kentucky’s state title and advance to the regional competition. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles awarded Montgomery County School District the title as Kentucky’s Farm to School Jr. Chef Winners. They will meet other Southeastern State Competition winners in May at Sullivan University, National Center for Hospitality Studies, in Louisville.
Sullivan University, who has partnered with Kentucky on its competition each year, graciously presented scholarships for each team member of first-place winner Montgomery County, second-place winner Corbin High School and two third-place winners Graves and Bath County High Schools. Sullivan University is also offering scholarships to first, second and third place winners of the upcoming regional competition.
A major component of Kentucky’s Farm to School Jr. Chef Competition (JCC) is relationship building. School district cooking teams are encouraged to connect with school administrators, community leaders and local farmers as a way to foster and sustain community food systems. Mackenzie Green, one of Montgomery County School District’s team members said, to see the way our community, the school system, and local farmers came together in support of our culinary team meant the world to me!”
KDA’s dedication to bringing fresh, high-quality Kentucky Proud products to school systems has paid off. Incorporating JCC recipes that include the MyPlate food groups into school menus has increased the quantity of local products served in school cafeterias. And students who never considered culinary studies as a career option are now developing recipes. Hayden Holley, Montgomery County School District team member said, “I never cooked before getting involved in the Jr. Chef Competition.”
As a result of KDA’s partnership with the Kentucky Department of Education, school systems have invested over $8,862,280 into local foods, which has impacted 77 school districts and 421,420 students. The Kentucky Farm to School Jr. Chef Competition is now considered a model program replicated throughout the southeast.
For more information on the Southeast Regional Farm to School Jr. Chef Competition, contact Samantha Benjamin-Kirk, USDA’s Southeast Regional Farm to School Lead at Samantha.Benjamin-Kirk@fns.usda.gov.
USDA supports national, regional and state efforts to promote lifelong healthy food choices, and encourages schools and students alike to use tools like MyPlate, MyState in Jr. Chef Competitions to help get students engaged in their state’s farm to school programs. USDA also provides states with Farm to School Grants that help bolster local procurement and training.
KDA received a USDA Farm to School Grant to support training across the state in 2015. To date, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has provided over $25 million for 365 Farm to School projects to increase the amount of local food in schools, early childcare settings and at summer feeding sites across all 50 states, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. FNS plans to release the Fiscal Year 2018 Request for Applications this fall. To receive updates, subscribe to The Dirt, USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems E-letter.