Culinary class hosted statewide for school nutrition professionals

MSU Extension hosts Making Michigan Recipes Work, focusing on culinary skills needed to use more local produce in school meals.

Photo by Mariel Borgman, Michigan State University Extension

Photo by Mariel Borgman, Michigan State University Extension

Interest and participation in farm to school programs in Michigan remains high. Results from a 2014 statewide survey to K-12 food service directors show that 54 percent of respondents currently purchase local food for their meal programs, and 82 percent were interested in purchasing local food in the future. This interest has been supported by numerous organizations, including Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Farm to School, Michigan Farm to Institution Network and many other regional organizations supporting the goals of farm to school. Until recently, the majority of this work has focused on assisting food service directors with purchasing local food.

In late 2016, a team of MSU Extension Community Food Systems Educators hosted a set of culinary skill-building classes called Making Michigan Recipes Work. The classes were intended for child nutrition professionals, aiming to increase Michigan produce handling and preparation literacy. The series of five classes had 89 total participants, representing 23 different Michigan counties. Participants in the class reported learning an average two-and-a-half new pieces of information and an average of three new skills.

The most popular information and skills acquired were:

  • What standard operating procedures are, and how they can help your team safely handle Michigan produce
  • When Michigan vegetables and fruits are in season
  • How Michigan ingredients could be substituted for non-Michigan ingredients in recipes
  • How to properly and safely use kitchen knives
  • How to store locally-grown produce
  • How to visually inspect locally-grown produce for quality and safety

In addition to the hands-on classes, a suite of materials and resources were developed to assist class participants and others interested in using more Michigan produce in their school meals. The suite includes tip sheets, guides, recipes and videos. These resources can all be freely accessed at the following address: https://www.cultivatemichigan.org/making-michigan-recipes-work. An article series linked here highlights many of the resources in depth.

A number of months after the classes took place, participants were surveyed to see whether they were using any of the skills or information acquired in the trainings.

Respondents indicated that they were using the following skills:

  • Washing different kinds of locally-grown produce
  • Properly and safely using knives
  • Storing locally-grown produce
  • Inspecting locally-grown produce for quality and safety

Also noteworthy is that respondents shared they had started to purchase or increased their purchasing of 43 different kinds of locally-grown products!

While this initial round of trainings had a limited reach in terms of participation, it has had an impact on the day to day operations of the schools and districts that took part. Moving forward, the team of Community Food Systems Educators has worked with the School Nutrition Association of Michigan to share the class curriculum, in order to continue offering this course as one of the organization’s statewide training opportunities. In May 2017, train the train class was held to ensure that a number of teachers are equipped to offer the class in the future. Stay up to date on current School Nutrition Association class offerings by checking in on their Statewide Training page.

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