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.
I recently came across an excellent handout on a sustainable diet through the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group (HEN DPG), of which I am a member. HEN is a special interest group within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, formerly known as the American Dietetic Association.
This handout was compiled by Mary Meck Higgins, a Human Nutrition Specialist and Registered Dietitian working with the Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service. I think she does an excellent job of highlighting some of the principles helpful in promoting personal health as well as the health of the planet. She reminds us of the importance of personal choice- we can’t expect the government or big industry to solve the world’s sustainability problems. These entities are shaped primarily by consumer demands. So how are you, as a consumer, going to respond?
Her suggestions are organized into seven categories:
- Choose nutrient-rich foods: Base meals on whole grains, fruits, legumes, and dark green, red, and orange vegetables. Choose fat-free or low fat dairy, lean red meats, and poultry without skin to reduce calories and saturated fat intake. Vary your protein- try non-animal sources. Choose water most of the time, and cook at home often. For more specific recommendations for your age, gender, and body size, visit myplate.gov.
- Eat locally produced foods when available: Choose foods that are in season. Visit a local farmers market or farmstand, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), or try growing something of your own.
- Buy from businesses with sustainable practices when possible: This can affect not only the health of the environment, but local economic vitality. Support local restaurants who purchase from local producers. Choose certified sustainable seafood products. When you buy tea, coffee, or chocolate, choose at least some that is certified fair trade.
- Minimize avoidable food losses and waste: On average, households in the US throw away at least 14 percent of food purchases. Store perishable foods appropriately. [An example: since I shop for myself and I don’t eat a loaf of bread very quickly, I often store it in the freezer and simply pull out a slice or two and toast it to prevent waste]. Even excess milk can be frozen if you won’t drink it by the expiration date! Instead of peeling potatoes or apples, simply wash them well and eat the peels. Extra fiber, less scraps. Speaking of scraps, try composting them! For a variety of reasons, restaurants often generate a sizable amount of food waste- another reason to cook and eat at home.
- Limit energy use: Of the energy consumed in the U.S., nearly 20 percent is used for food production, transport, processing, packaging, distribution, storage, sales, and household food handling. Limit how often you drive to the grocery store. Better yet- walk or bike to get a bit of exercise at the same time! Wash with hot water, but rinse with cold water. Let your dishwasher air dry instead of using the heated dry cycle.
- Limit water use: Conserve water when preparing food by keeping an empty pitcher to capture water from the faucet while waiting for it to heat up. Use this to water plants. Use water-efficient kitchen appliances. Turn off the faucet in between rinsing dishes.
- Minimize packaging and wrapper waste: Carry a reusable water bottle instead of buying packaged bottled water. Keep your reusable grocery bags in the car so you remember to actually take them with you to the grocery store! Eliminate packaging when possible: purchase whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables. Instead of buying small packages of food (i.e. individual yogurt cups), try buying a larger container and separating the amount you plan to eat out into smaller containers.
Two more days of 4-H camp, complete. On Thursday, we talked about an under-celebrated food group: Vegetables. I think they are absolutely lovely, and delicious, and fun. There are endless possibilities of ways to enjoy and prepare vegetables, and infinite varieties of vegetables beyond whats available in the grocery store (but that’s a story for another day).
To start off, we practiced measuring skills to make an “Herb Veggie Dip” with part low fat mayo and part plain nonfat yogurt. It was a big hit with the kids. Then the kids refreshed their grating skills from the other day, and made corn fritters and zucchini fritters. The nice thing about this recipe is that we could have two groups of kids mix up their own batter, and then add their own “mix-ins” to make the two separate kinds of fritters.
- 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp pepper
- 2 eggs, beaten
Mix to form a smooth batter. Add one of the options below and mix gently. Very lightly spray a frypan with oil and heat to medium hot. Drop a large spoonfll of batter onto frypan. Fry until golden, turn and cook on second side until done.
Summer Squash Option:
- 3 cups summer squash, shredded
- 1/3 cup onion, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley (chopped)
- 2 cups corn
- 2 tablespoons milk
The campers taught Kaitlin and I a song about corn…. let’s just say it involved yelling and jumping around. It was absolutely fantastic. I love the energy in this age group!
We finished off the week at camp with a lesson about fruit. We learned about the state fruit of West Virginia: the Golden Delicious Apple. Did you know that there is even a Golden Delicious Festival in Clay County, the home of the now famous variety?
We gave each child an apple and a paring knife. Daring, I know, but I firmly believe that every child should be given the opportunity to learn how to prepare food for themselves. And preparing whole foods often requires cutting. (Don’t worry, the burner was turned off at this point!)
So, after the kids had chopped their apples and thrown them in the pot to simmer for applesauce, we moved on to making skillet granola.
A few weeks ago I was reading a cooking blog and noticed that you can make granola on the stovetop in a skillet. This fit in perfectly with our curriculum for the week, so we stirred up some granola on the stovetop.
As we recapped the week over bowls of piping hot applesauce and crunchy granola, it was fun to hear the kids feedback on the week. I think that every single recipe was listed as someone’s favorite, and many of the campers said that they hoped to make their recipes at home.
Overall, 4-H camp was a rousing success.