Penns Valley

Students back for seconds when local foods are served up in Penns Valley schools

Principal Kurt Nyquist enjoys his lunch with second-grader Sarah Fultz. Penns Valley Area Elementary School held a Farmers’ Market Harvest Lunch, September 17, 2014, featuring a entire menu of local food.
Principal Kurt Nyquist enjoys his lunch with second-grader Sarah Fultz. Penns Valley Area Elementary School held a Farmers’ Market Harvest Lunch, September 17, 2014, featuring a entire menu of local food. CDT photo

On Monday, 8-year-old Isaac Klaue had chicken nuggets for lunch.

On Tuesday he had a hot dog.

On Wednesday, he ate slow-braised valley beef barbecue with cabbage-apple slaw and maple dressing, sweet corn cheesy risotto and a biscuit.

“It was the best lunch ever,” Isaac said.

The third-grader said he’s never had a meal at school that was similar to something he would eat at dinner with his family from Woodward. But it’s something he hopes the school will offer more often.

Wednesday’s lunch at Penns Valley Elementary School was new for the district.

Children were served a meal with ingredients exclusively sourced from Centre County farms, from recipes that came from Tony Sapia, owner of Gemelli Bakers and manager of the Boalsburg farmers market.

The Farmers Market Harvest Lunch was an event spearheaded by the district in partnership with The Nutrition Group and other local farmers and businesses.

The mission was to educate students about where food comes from and to give them a chance to experience the outcome.

“We ask the question, ‘Where did those apples come from?’ for instance, and they respond, ‘Burkholder’s’ or ‘Weis,’ ” Principal Kurt Nyquist said. “We tell them it actually comes from the farm down the street.”

It’s the first time a Centre County public school has served a subsidized lunch made exclusively from local farm-fresh ingredients, said Mary Kay Bukeavich, regional manager of The Nutrition Group, which provides the food service for Penns Valley.

Last week, Sapia and a group of farmers and food-service representatives held seminars with the students about nutrition information for different kinds of produce and meats, and where food originates.

On Tuesday, local farmers dropped off their supply, then the kitchen staff spent most of the day preparing the meals, corporate chef Myra Fink said.

District business manager Jef Wall said it cost the district more than it would have to serve its regular lunch. He didn’t have the financial figures, but said the food service department might have taken a loss.

But it was a financial loss worth taking.

“It’s a positive outcome when we have the chance to educate kids and help bridge the gap between local farms and the rest of the community,” Bukeavich said.

For the students, it was the best part of their day.

“It tastes really good,” said second-grade student Dylan West, of Millheim.

“I had a hot dog the other day and it wasn’t as good like this was,” Josh Evans, 8, said about his meal of free-range chicken and gravy, a biscuit and the risotto.

The event was proposed to the district in June by Sapia and Ben MacNeal, of MacNeal Orchards and Sugarbush, of Rebersburg, which provides the apples for the district, Superintendent Brian Griffith said.

Bukeavich said the district was then given the OK by the state to provide a school lunch with FDA-regulated local farm sources.

The district is hoping Wednesday’s event will serve as a prototype and inspire other school districts in Centre County to include fresher, locally produced ingredients in school lunches.

Wall said the district spent about $170,000 on new kitchen equipment. That purchase will allow its schools to more efficiently prepare local foods.

“It’s a lot different process than just cracking open a can of vegetables,” Fink said.

It’s not something the district can offer for lunch every day, but Wall said the district hopes to do it a couple times a year.

Penns Valley already holds “Wellness Wednesday,” providing students with fresh produce from local farms.

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