By Abigail Curtis
For the Midcoast BEACON
BROOKS — There was something special on the menus of western Waldo County schools during the recent Maine Harvest Lunch.
Though the annual event is celebrated at schools across the state, SAD 3 officials this year decided to try something different — the fruits, vegetables milk and meat served during lunch on Wednesday, Sept. 22, came from the same local farms that many students pass on their way to school.
The hamburgers, roasted potatoes, salad, corn on the cob, apple crisp and milk were enjoyed by students and their parents, who also were invited to celebrate the harvest that day.
“I love it. I think it’s a good idea,” said Jen Dodge of Jackson, who had just dined with her 4-year-old son, Bernie, at Morse Memorial School in Brooks. “Everything was very good.”
The Maine Harvest Lunch program began in 2003 in southern Maine and was designed to emphasize the importance of locally grown foods.
According to a website for the Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District, on the day of the lunch, the distance food travels between farm and fork is reduced from 2,500 miles to less than 300 miles.
In SAD 3, of course, the travel distance was much less than 300 miles.
Suppliers for the lunch included local Oakhurst dairy farmers, Heald Farm and Smith Farm, both of Troy, Village Farm of Freedom, Thor-Knox Farm of Knox, Maine-ly Apples of Dixmont and Community Market of Unity.
“Food tastes better when it’s fresh,” said Raya Kouletsis, the school health coordinator for SAD 3. “[Maine Harvest Lunch] is local, helps the local economy and brings parents and the community together to share a meal.”
Students in her district are part of what Kouletsis calls a national health crisis and “epidemic of overweight and obesity.” The percentage of children in SAD 3 that are overweight or obese, according to body mass index measurement, is 43 percent, she said.
“With farm to school, they eat a healthy, nutritious meal that’s also tasty. The message gets to parents,” Kouletsis said.
And, hopefully, the children.
“The corn is good!” Morgan Hinckley, 8, of Waldo said between enthusiastic mouthfuls.
Normally, the students eat “government food,” according to chef Renee Massey of Unity. The lunch on the previous day consisted of fish sticks, mashed potatoes, frozen peas, roll and salad.
While much more fresh and local, the harvest meal was also more labor intensive than usual. Massey and her helpers peeled and chopped 50 pounds of potatoes, shucked the corn and peeled, cored and cut “too many apples to count.”
Anne Goguen, the custodian, was busy helping to clean up the cafeteria.
“It’s a lot of work, but it was fun,” she said.
Andrea Crosby, 10, of Brooks, said that she enjoyed the hamburgers — and that she has an insider’s knowledge of local farms. Her father raises pigs and other animals and has a very large garden, she said.
“It would be kind of cool to go to a farm and see how things are grown,” she said.
Her mom, Wendy Young of Troy, said that the special meal is a good teaching moment.
“I think it’s awesome that children learn that people grew this locally, instead of just going to a store,” she said.