Sourcing local produce is great, but someone still has to prepare it, which generally means a lot of labor-intensive washing, scraping, chopping, dicing and slicing.
Sometimes this can be farmed out to commercial processors, but often that’s not possible or practical and the work ends up being done at school sites by kitchen staff.
One way to make this process more efficient is to do it in bulk, and that’s exactly what a group of districts did recently when staff from Wisconsin’s Ashwaubenon, De Pere, West De Pere, Howard-Suamico and Pulaski public school districts, plus representatives from the local Catholic schools, got together in the central kitchen of the Green Bay Area Public Schools to wash, peel and chop nearly 2,600 pounds of carrots and 910 pounds of onions sourced from local growers by the participating districts.
The produce was processed over some 11 hours, including cleanup, in the Green Bay district’s expansive central production facility and then either stored for use in the near future in recipes like soups and taco meat or frozen for longer term use. The product is stored at Green Bay until the smaller districts can get transportation to pick it up.
“It’s a way to extend what is a short growing season here in Wisconsin so we have locally grown product into the winter,” says Lynette Zalec, foodservice director for Green Bay Schools.
This is not the first processing day event. Last year, Green Bay partnered with Oshkosh Area School District to process a locally sourced crop that included eggplant, peppers, onions and squash.
The event is a cooperative venture among the participating school districts, the USDA, local healthcare organization United Healthcare and a local organization called Live54218 that seeks to “make the Greater Green Bay Area the healthiest community in the nation by urging all residents to consume five fruits and vegetables, drink four bottles of water, have less than two hours of screen time, participate in at least one hour of physical activity and get eight hours of sleep each day.”
“It is something that we here in Green Bay put out to other school districts that are part of our farm-to-school task force,” Zalec says. “Next year, we’re going to start planning in February the type of crops we’re looking for so that farmers will know what [to plant] for the Green Bay School District and the other districts that will take part in the processing event.”
One additional benefit: “If our schools want to do field trips [to area farms], students will [see specific fields of] crops that will be going to their school district, so we really hope to do some good marketing with that.”