Local grower partnerships with Lunchtime Solutions benefit all involved
October 29, 2018
NORTH SIOUX CITY, SD – Siouxland students are benefitting from the fruits of local growers’ labors not only during National Farm to School Month, but year-round.
Several area school district breakfast and lunch programs operated by Lunchtime Solutions, Inc., have teamed up with growers including Hebda Family Produce, Castle Creek Family Farms, Prairie Moon Herbs and Morse’s Farm Market to provide fresh produce for their unlimited fruit and veggie bars.
“The best part of our local partnerships is that we get food packed with flavor, plus varieties kids have never heard of before,” said Susan Hudson, Food Service Director at Dakota Valley School District in North Sioux City. “The response we’ve gotten is remarkable. Students and teachers love the taste. They can tell when items are out of season and we have to go back to store-bought.”
With Dale Hebda and Hebda Family Produce of Mission Hill, SD, this relationship has lasted nearly a decade, primarily providing delicious melons and apples.
“It makes me feel really good to know kids are enjoying what we grow,” Hebda said. “It’s most likely a higher quality product than they are able to get at home because of the care we take in growing it. It is also fresher because it isn’t traveling long distances to get them.”
Over the past month, students from Homer, NE, to Scotland, SD, have gotten to munch on a wide variety of Hebda’s apples that include Honeycrisp, Cortland, Zestar!, MacIntosh, and Haralson.
Both Hudson and Kassidi Schwier, Food Service Director at Homer (NE) Community School, Elk Point-Jefferson (SD) School District and Kingsley-Pierson (IA) Community School District, try to serve local fruits and vegetables as much as possible throughout the year. To find new growers, they have attended weekly Farmer’s Markets like the one in Vermillion, SD. One grower they found there, Castle Creek Family Farms of Newcastle, NE, has provided several products including juicy heirloom tomatoes and a unique yellow seedless watermelon for their area schools.
“My business relies on local food consumption, so it is critical to find local partnerships that can provide a means to move product,” said Jerimiah Hinz of Castle Creek. “Larger orders placed by Lunchtime Solutions really help keep products flowing out from the farm.”
Lunchtime Solutions, Inc. is a K-12 food service management company based out of Dakota Dunes, SD. The company places a high value on local partnerships and encourages its Food Service Directors across the Midwest to work with local growers as much as possible, said Deni Winter, Director of Business Development and Marketing.
Their school districts all participate in a monthly Farmers Market Selections program featuring locally grown produce on their school lunch menus, accompanied by education about the fruit or vegetable and information about the local grower. October is also National Farm to School Month, which celebrates the connections happening nationwide between children and local food.
“These growers contribute to the school district through being located here, so supporting them helps everyone,” Winter said. “And the education our kids receive is great – they find out more about the food they eat and see they can actually go and pick it out themselves.”
Those connections aren’t only made at Farmer’s Markets – they are sometimes found in unexpected places. Yankton Nurseries, a family-owned garden center in Yankton, SD, primarily known for offering flowers, shrubs, trees and garden décor, recently started experimenting with specialty produce. One such item was the Harvest Moon watermelon, a newly introduced seedless variant of the classic heirloom Moon-and-Stars, a type with excellent flavor and memorable starry patterning.
“We were thrilled to find a good home for them at area schools with Lunchtime Solutions, and that fresh fruits and veggies are being so readily accepted by kids there,” said Mike Gurney, who helps his parents Jay and Tracey run Yankton Nurseries. “It’s just not what the stereotype says about school lunch service.”
Hinz said he looks forward to continuing to work with Lunchtime Solutions’ Siouxland districts. “Getting feedback from them about how students really liked certain products makes all the hard work growing the veggies more rewarding,” he said. “Knowing students are eating healthier and liking it makes me excited. Developing good eating habits in today’s youth will help keep the local food industry strong in future years.”
Lunchtime Solutions has managed food service programs at Siouxland schools for more than 20 years, beginning at Dakota Valley and adding other schools including Bishop Heelan Catholic High School and Vermillion School District along the way.
“Our program centers on getting kids excited about eating lunch at school,” Winter said. “We think it’s important to provide a wide variety of menu options and make sure students have unlimited access to fresh fruits and vegetables every day.”