This time of year, I adhere to a personal mantra of “three apples a day keeps the doctor away”. Seriously, it’s not that unusual for me to slice an apple into my morning oatmeal, snag an apple as an afternoon snack, and enjoy applesauce or apple crisp or cake or pie for dinner. A large dose of cinnamon, a few cloves and ginger thrown in for a rounded out fall flavor. Can’t beat it.
October is “National Apple Month”. It’s also “Farm to School” month. For this reason, I’m going to share about a little project that I completed in my most recent rotation. It has to do with apples, and farms, and schools.
The Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design is not only home to the Division of Animal and Nutritional Sciences (where my program falls), but also the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences.
This division operates the Kearneysville Tree Fruit Research and Education Center located in Jefferson County, WV- in what is referred to as the “Eastern Panhandle” of the state. The fruits of this labor are then sold through the Plant and Soil Sciences farm, about 2.9 miles away from the dining hall where I was rotating. The apples are brought in large crates, and anyone can come to pick out their own apples. Varieties include Golden Delicious, Rome, Red Delicious, Honey Crisp and I believe a few others too. Availability varies, and this year was more limited than some, due to less than ideal growing conditions.
So how does this connect to my rotation? I needed to complete a “Process Improvement Project”, and chose to work on bringing local produce into the dining hall.
I first spoke with the Director of Dining Services. They had gotten apples from the farm in the past, but this year it had not been made a priority, so my assistance in the project would be much appreciated.
I made some phone calls, visited the farm, coordinated with dining facility personnel to cancel current orders of apples from the standard supplier, and got the ball rolling.
One of the common issues with purchasing local food is the increased amount of labor required in bypassing the “conventional” food system. In this case, the individuals working at the farm did not have time to sort out apples that were needed for the cafeteria, and likewise dining facilities was short-staffed and unable to provide this labor and transportation. So myself and the Director of Dining Services stepped in the labor gap and counted out 2,300 apples. Yeah, it was a lot of apples.
Apples were brought into the dining facility. Here they are- ready to be washed and put out for tasting!
The apples were then placed in the cafeteria, along with point-of-sale advertisement that the apples were grown in West Virginia.
I may get a little bit too excited about fresh food- especially when it is grown locally.
When calculating the cost of purchasing the West Virginia apples, even including the additional labor required for sorting, the cost of purchasing these apples was slightly less than ordering through the produce contract. Buying local foods for use in foodservice operations can be done- but I will be the first to admit that it takes creativity, hard work, and persistence. To date, 176 colleges and universities nationwide have completed a survey on the Farm to College website indicating that they are integrating local food into their operation. There are also now Farm to School programs in all fifty states. Movement towards connecting consumers with the source of their food is growing (pun intended), but a lot more work remains.
As a random bit of trivia- the Golden Delicious is the State Fruit of West Virginia- discovered in Clay County, WV around 1912 by a man named Anderson Mullins. There’s even a Golden Delicious Festival to celebrate it.