School Lunch Director Dishes Up Local Foods

Lorraine Merrill, the Commissioner of the NH Agriculture, Markets & Food, writes a column for the department’s Weekly Market Bulletin, something I look forward to reading every week through the New Hampshire Farms Network. This week’s column has some much-deserved praise for Jeanne Pierce and those involved in successful initiatives to bring local food to the Exeter school system:

October was National Farm to School Month, and last week the two Exeter elementary schools were the first schools in our state to win recognition from USDA’s Healthier US School Challenge for the nutritional and appealing qualities of meals served in school cafeterias. That same week, Exeter school food service director Jeanne Pierce initiated a full week of high school meals and programming featuring local foods and farmers. Students watched and discussed the film ‘Greenhorns’ which highlights young farmers. Pierce even welcomed families and community members to Exeter Region Cooperative High School Friday evening to share a meal of locally sourced foods prepared by several visiting chefs. The chefs gave demonstrations, talked about cooking with local ingredients, and answered questions. All enjoyed the meal of butternut-apple soup, shepherd’s pie, kale chips, and baked apples.

Pierce is a high-energy food service manager and educator who believes in cooking school food the old-fashioned way—from scratch. She wants to get kids from early elementary through high school eating kale and other healthy greens. Not only is she training school food service staff members in how to cook real foods, she wants to convert families to preparing healthier meal menus. Now that Jeanne Pierce is the new president of the School Nutrition Association of New Hampshire, farmers, chefs and local food advocates have an opportunity to help spread her enthusiasm to other districts.

Pierce says a school food revolution cannot happen without community involvement—parents, farmers, gardeners, school administrative and teaching staff, and other community supporters. She has help getting local foods into the Exeter schools’ menus from the many farmers who are eager to see students eating healthier, locally produced foods, a community wellness committee, and volunteers who helped students at the high school establish and maintain an organic vegetable and herb garden.  One mother of young children volunteers her time sourcing or brokering produce, meats, fish and other local foods from farmers and fishermen. UNH Cooperative Extension Master Gardener and Exeter resident Margaret Theobald is a dedicated mentor and teacher to the high school Environmental Club members who tend the school garden, which was started last spring by a group of graduating seniors. Local health and wellness counselor Tracey Miller also helps with the garden and other local food initiatives. Pierce uses veggies and herbs from the garden in student meals. Read more…

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