school lunch counter

Ottumwa schools use Iowa vendors for lunch items whenever possible, says Yvonne Johnson, director of food and nutrition services.

OTTUMWA — Apples and honey from Iowa orchards and apiaries, sweet potatoes from a farm in Grinnell and pork from Iowa Select Farms will create Thursday’s meal for Ottumwa’s school children.

The school district makes a practice of buying food close to home, Yvonne Johnson, director of food and nutrition services, said Tuesday, but Thursday is specifically designated Iowa Local Food Day by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

“We always try to look for local sources for produce when he can,” Johnson said. “We work close with our wholesale vendors to do the same thing.”

During National Farm-to-School Month, the IDA, using grant money from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, is bringing attention to Iowa-grown food to school children around the state.

Johnson didn’t create a new menu or jump through hoops to find local vendors for Local Food Day, she said. The school always uses Iowa products when it can.

The only thing on Thursday’s menu that doesn’t come from Iowa is calico beans, Johnson said. Even the milk, purchased from Anderson Erickson Dairy, uses Iowa sources.

The district works with Food Corp, a nonprofit organization that promotes healthy school food, to help children pick better snacks, Johnson said. Food Corp is bringing additional food for Thursday’s event.

“It’s just going to be an extra [item] that the kids can try,” Johnson said. “We’re doing some testing of some Iowa grown products.”

The grant funding will allow the IDA to build a support network for interested schools around the state, a press release from Ottumwa schools said. Funds may assist schools in procuring local foods and to find growers interested in selling their products to schools.

IDA will partner with Summer Food Service Programs to create a starting point for farmers to work with schools, allowing Farm-to-School activities to expand beyond fruits and vegetables, the district said.

Iowa Local Food Day is “just kind of a fun way to promote Iowa farms and Iowa farming,” Johnson said.

Reporter Winona Whitaker can be contacted at wwhitaker@ottumwacourier.com and followed on Twitter @courierwinona.

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