Lindsay Hall 2017-11-30 06:22:44
Bringing the Three Sisters to Northern Michigan Schools Corn, beans and squash have formed the backbone of winter meals in the northern Midwest for generations. The Native Americans who lived here before white settlers arrived call this trifecta “the three sisters,” a nod to the plants’ symbiotic relationship as well as their balanced nutritional value. Through stories, traditions, and lessons passed down through generations, the symbolism of these crops and the community practice of planting them together has endured. FoodCorps is a national nonprofit that places service members who are dedicated to connecting kids to healthy food in schools. Through FoodCorps, northern Michigan schools are keeping “the three sisters” tradition alive, while introducing students to fresh, locally grown vegetables in classrooms and cafeterias across the region. The local “farm to school” movement is thriving, from the Sleeping Bear Dunes to the Mackinac Bridge. The benefits are many. Students get to eat more nutritious meals at school and learn where their food comes from, and local farmers gain an expanded market for their produce. Students at schools from Benzie to Glen Lake to Traverse City to Petoskey now know which local farmers grow root vegetables, why they’re nutritious, how to prepare them, and even the historic significance of specific crops and recipes. Last week up in Emmet County, fifth graders at Pellston Elementary and third graders at Boyne Falls Public School learned the significance of corn, beans, and squash to the Native peoples in our region as they read and acted out the legend of The Three Sisters. The story explains why this companion planting method is still practiced today and how a healthy, well-balanced meal is created by cooking these plants together. Once familiar with the story of the three sisters, students were eager to experience the magic of putting them together. They became chefs and prepared a simple recipe of butternut squash, sweet corn, and pinto beans. A small pot containing all the three “sisters” simmered away on a portable cooktop set up on a spare desk while students worked on answering questions and labeling a diagram of the plants growing together. As smells wafted into the classroom, students couldn’t seem to agree on their feelings at first. “It smells like french fries!” or, “It smells like popcorn!” they offered. But in the end, their reaction was unanimous. The three sisters won the hearts (and taste buds) of many. One student commented, “If this was trick or treating like Halloween, I would only come to this house!” And another confirmed, “That was one of the best things I ever ate!” The learning and celebration of this story and food continued with taste tests in each cafeteria of November’s Harvest of the Month product, winter squash. Students from Boyne Falls Public School waited in anticipation as they do every month for their monthly Taste Test Friday. Chef Nathan Bates, the school’s food service director, chose to feature spaghetti squash in honor of his fresh delivery from Spirit of Walloon Market Garden that came through the kitchen’s back door just days before. The unique squash was new to many students and confusing to some with its close relation to a pumpkin. However, the squash proved to be a winner with 70% of votes in favor of the dish. One student even exclaimed, “I double loved it!” FoodCorps service members provide frequent lessons in the classroom that unite food and curriculum, encouraging local food procurement and consumption in the cafeteria, conducting taste tests that feature local produce, and utilizing the school garden as an educational space. FoodCorps focuses its programming in high-need schools to instill systemic strategies that will benefit the school and broader community. Lindsay Hall works out of the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities’ new Petoskey office and serves Boyne Falls Public School and Pellston Public Schools. Two organizations in northern Michigan currently host FoodCorps service members. Michigan State University (MSU) Extension hosts Sarah Perez-Sanz as a service member at Traverse Heights Elementary and Rapid City Elementary in the Grand Traverse Region. MSU Extension was selected as a service site for its strong local knowledge about how to succeed in improving the school food environment. The Groundwork Center hosts service member Lindsay Hall. Based in Traverse City, The Groundwork Center has worked for 15 years to catalyze and grow the farm-to-school movement through outreach to farmers, schools, lawmakers, and other nonprofits. One of the movement’s crowning achievements, the 10 Cents a Meal state-funded program, which incentivizes schools to purchase locally-grown produce, was expanded during the 2017-18 school year to include 32 school districts and 95,000 students—nearly double the previous year’s headcount.
Published by Families First . View All Articles.
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