As part of National Agriculture Week, March 17th – 23rd, Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) was honored to have Kevin Concannon, the USDA Undersecretary of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, visit the SPPS Nutrition Center. Also in attendance were US Congresswoman Betty McCollum, legislative aides from Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken’s offices, and representatives from the Mayo Clinic. The group was interested in how a model school nutrition program operates and successfully incorporates local foods through the SPPS Farm to School program.
The visitors also had a first-hand view of the district’s push on healthy foods reflected in Nutrition Services Director Jean Ronnei bringing home the national nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s “Golden Carrot” prize last fall. This trend has been accelerated this school year by stricter federal school lunch rules.
The group then headed over to Crossroads Elementary school where they met farmers participating in the SPPS Farm to School program. Farmer John Peterson, discussed raising free-range, antibiotic-free and naturally processed turkeys used for sloppy joes. Farmer Mark Askagaard described his 5th generation family farm and the organic golden flaxseed he grows for the district’s Breakfast Smart Cookie – a secondary school favorite. JoAnne Berkenkamp, of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Saint Paul’s District Partner, was also in attendance to discuss the district’s participation with School Food FOCUS, which played a significant role in connecting local farmers, contributing to the success of the Farm to School program as part of the first FOCUS Learning Lab.
The visitors then ate a school lunch, most daring to try the new entree being piloted– Coconut Chicken over Brown Rice–an ethnic dish representing the quickly growing Karen population (near Burma) of Saint Paul. The group left saying they were “wowed” by the lunches and impressed with the overall operation at SPPS. They also parted with a renewed passion to continue to fight for better school meals to ensure the health of not only students in Saint Paul but also of the children throughout the nation (with excerpts from Mila Koumpilova, Pioneer Press, and Angie Gaszak, SPPS.)
Oakland Students Impressed with Concannon’s “Creds”
On February 21st, Undersecretary Kevin Concannon visited Esperanza/Fred T Korematsu Elementary School, which has a cooking kitchen, participates in USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, has an extensive school garden, and an on-site farmers market available to the families of students attending the school. Jennifer Le Barre, Director of Nutrition Services for Oakland Unified Public Schools said “It was a great honor to have Undersecretary Concannon at our school, experiencing our program and sharing a meal with our students.” The students were excited to meet Concannon, especially when they learned that he works for President Obama. Undersecretary Concannon was greatly impressed by school’s programs and the meal he was served. He was also introduced to two locally grown products; pomelos, which are a very large grapefruit well known in Asian culture, and the district’s harvest of the month, which was cara cara oranges.