Archive | Summer 2010


Lunch Lessons: A New Look at Lunch

By Beth Dooley

Photos by Morgan Sheff


Kitchen Staff at Eisenhower Elementary preparing fresh veggies
(including radishes and greens from Riverbend Farm)

When it comes to school lunch programs, big names like Jamie Oliver are grabbing headlines with horror stories, but look no further than Hopkins Schools’ cafeterias for newsworthy solutions. Here the “lunch ladies” (and guys) are winning the war on Lunchables, one bite at a time. In Hopkins’ six elementary schools, two junior highs, and one high school, about 8,000 students are enjoying fresh local food and learning healthy habits.

Two years ago, Renewing the Countryside, a project that highlights efforts of rural  farmers, artists, and educators, organized a networking event for farmers and chefs at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. There, Barb Mechura, Director of Nutrition Services for Hopkins Schools, met Greg Reynolds of Riverbend Farm in Delano and began breaking down the barriers of regulation and price, the bugaboos of institutional food. Mechura drew her cafeteria supervisors and cooks into subsequent meetings with Reynolds and together they worked out purchasing arrangements that met both menu cycles and budgets.

“Everyone (the administration and kitchen staff) was committed to making it work,” Reynolds says. “It wasn’t always easy, but they were creative and worked hard to get it done.” Current reimbursement rates allow only about $1.00 to be spent on food, the rest of the budget covers labor and kitchen supplies. Milk alone costs between $.17 and $.25 per carton, protein about $.50 per plate. This past school year, “Hopkins utilized some of their commodity entitlement dollars by spending $50,000 of it on fresh produce through the Department of Defense’s fresh produce program,” says Mechura. (Ironically, the school lunch program was initiated during WWI with the understanding that “good food was the first line of defense,” and inspired the Victory Gardens, to promote school kids to become “soldiers of the soil”.)  

“We worried that not using prepared foodservice products might increase our labor costs,” says Mechura. “But that was offset by lower raw ingredient costs. Plus, the food tasted so much better, there was less waste.”

“Recipe development at this level is tricky,” notes Tonya Christianson, Cook Supervisor, Alice Smith Elementary. “It’s hard to test a recipe for 300 servings and if it’s not right the first time you serve it, you don’t get a second chance.” Fresh food needs to be used right away, too. But when cooks saw that Riverbend’s potatoes on the potato bar actually got eaten, unlike those old spuds from a food service giant, they knew they were on to something good.

Mechura’s team worked on more than what to cook; they considered how to encourage healthy lifestyles. Meadowbrook and Gatewood Elementary Schools have scheduled recess before lunch so that students enter the cafeteria relaxed and hungry. They also eliminated unhealthy treats in birthday celebrations (nixing all those sugary, fatty cupcakes, cookies, and ice cream extravaganzas that seem to be omnipresent). At birthday celebrations, kids are feted with songs, cards, and notes.

Several years ago, Royal Cuisine took over the operation of all vending machines and concessions and nearly all of the items sold now meet the nutrition standards established by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. No junk food or artificial and highly sweetened beverages can be sold in any of the student areas. Salads, deli sandwiches, yogurt parfaits, and baked potatoes are offered in concession areas throughout the district. Whole grain products are featured in breakfasts, lunches, and snacks—muffins, breads, buns, pizza crusts, rice, pasta, tortillas, pancakes, cereals, and pita breads are predominantly whole grain.

Knowing that many of their students might resist the menu changes, Hopkins elementary schools initiated a Food Coaching program engaging parent volunteers in the cafeteria. The Food Coaches help younger students cut food up, open milk cartons, explain what’s on the tray and entice them to try new things. The first step was to simply entice the students to taste the great difference between fresh, local carrots and those orange bullets that come in bags. Last year, Riverbend’s multi-colored carrots (purple, red, white) became the “must have” student favorite. And cooks found that offering samples and using fun, silly names on the menu such as “X-ray Vision Carrots” and “Clever Corn” piques student interest. The coaches also help keep the short lunch period relatively calm.

The cafeteria staff worked with teachers to identify books with characters who grow food and enjoy home cooked meals. They have created posters of participating farms (Greg Reynolds on his tractor, for example), putting a friendly face on their plates. Greg has made guest appearances in the classroom for informal lessons in botany.


Salad bar signage: Fresh from the farm, grown locally by Greg

This past year, Hopkins purchased 22,000 pounds of produce—carrots, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, squash, potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, melons, cornmeal, eggplant, and onions,—from Riverbend Farm and other local growers. Other items included apples from Homestead Orchard, Maple Plain; grass-fed beef hot dogs from Thousand Hills Cattle Company, Cannon Falls; cheese curds from Castle Rock Dairy, Osseo, Wisconsin; and brown rice and black barley from Indianhead Harvest, Bemidji—all 10,000 miles fresher.

This engagement ignites the cooks’ creativity. “We get excited when those beautiful eggplants come in,” says Elizabeth Anderson, Cook Supervisor, Gatewood Elementary.

“Our ratatouille is so good, we’ve made believers out of staff that say they don’t like eggplant or zucchini,” notes Mechura.  The school cooks’ jobs now mean far more than “heat and serve.” Happily, unlike many other school systems that removed their appliances, Hopkins schools have maintained their kitchens and the staff has always known how to cook. Many cooks were wary of the gradual acceptance of highly processed foodservice products and are glad to see that trend being reversed. They consider preparing meals from scratch the best part of their job, both creative and challenging.

Andrew Karr, Cook Supervisor, North Junior High, a former restaurant cook says, “I get far more satisfaction from my work knowing I’m serving kids healthy nutritious food and making a difference in the experience kids have during the day at school. I trust this is teaching them how to make good choices.”

Janet Franks, Cook Supervisor, Tanglen Elementary adds, “It’s worth the extra effort it takes to serve good fresh food when you realize that after a good lunch, these students may go back to their classrooms happier and more settled, more attentive.”

Several schools planted gardens this past spring. Reynolds donated seedling plants and will visit as students care for their plots, and several classes will take field trips out to Riverbend Farm. The school plans to use the garden produce in the school meal programs this summer.

But, schools can only do so much; they need support at home too. “Many of these kids, not just in Hopkins, but across the country, don’t eat real food at home. Some of them don’t eat home-cooked dinners so it’s no wonder they resist fresh, scratch cooking,” notes June Lezon, Kitchen Supervisor, West Junior High. The Food Coaches have helped ease the transition among younger students, but support for eating healthy is needed at home.  

“Sure it’s much easier to stop at McDonalds, but it takes very little time to boil … Read the rest

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Notable Edibles: Two Pony Gardens

Story and photo by Grace Brogan


Dahlias, the bright, bushy flowers that grow taller than six feet, don’t scream organic farm to everyone, but learn the story of Two Pony Gardens and they will represent a colorful cornerstone to a woman’s passion for nurturing an understanding of the natural world at every turn.

Not half an hour out of the buzz of Minneapolis is a rhythm of a different kind. The road out to Two Pony Gardens subtly turns from blacktop to gravel, pulls up a small slope, around old woods, and opens up at a clearing host to a greenhouse, a garden, and two friendly dogs faithfully following Lisa Ringer, owner and gardener, everywhere she wanders. The dahlias are a holdover from Lisa’s former life as a landscape gardener and are available in over 100 varieties. This mid-April afternoon, they populate the greenhouse along with over 50 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, Two Pony’s other major crop, in addition to a plethora of greens that will be sold both here and at Midtown Farmers Market.

But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill dahlia and heirloom tomato farm, friends. In the past four years, Ringer’s relationship with the Southside Family School has built an education program that she is hoping will continue to grow throughout the City. The Youth Environmental Literacy and Law (Y.E.L.L.) Project is an after-school program for middle school students that touches on sustainable agriculture, natural history, environmental advocacy, career training, and health topics. The students venture out to the farm a few times in the spring and the fall, getting to know first-hand what all of these big topics are about, and they receive visits in the classroom as well. This year, with Lisa’s guidance, the students have ordered chicks for Two Pony Gardens, and will have the opportunity to watch them grow and produce, giving the children a unique and much-needed close encounter with the food system. Two Pony Gardens is bringing students closer to food, land, and nature, and hopes to expand its reach to educate people, young and old, about these vital topics.

One delicious way Two Pony Gardens reaches adults is through its periodic Harvest Dinners. Lisa opens her bright and airy home to long tables and hungry guests for an evening of local, creative, and sustainable eating made from food grown by local farmers and prepared by chef and filmmaker Daniel Klein (visit for more information about his Minnesota food documentary project). Email Lisa and Siri, her business partner, at twoponygardens (at) for more information about this season’s Harvest Dinner dates. Proceeds from dinners go to the Y.E.L.L. Project. With chickens, a bread/pizza oven, and perhaps even visiting sheep on the way, summer at Two Pony Gardens will be an exciting season. Check out to learn more about this unique gem in Long Lake.… Read the rest

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NOTABLE EDIBLES: Haiku contest winners

Thanks to all those who entered our haiku contest, which was announced on our Facebook page and in our e-newsletter. We asked for haiku in two categories: the sky’s-the-limit topic of local food and, in honor of our 5th anniversary, haiku about the very magazine you hold in your hands. The winner in each category received a copy of the book, Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods.

In the category of local food, the winning entry comes from Carissa Wodehouse of Portland, Oregon.

Fresh grown vegetables
I rinse the dirt from their roots
and know my place: here

In the Edible Twin Cities category, the winner is Kathy Yerich of Forest Lake, Minnesota.

Budding appetite
The pages like green leaves feed

Thanks to all those who entered and gave us some inspirational reading!… Read the rest

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Cooking Fresh: Picnic Time!

By Teresa Marrone

Summer is the best time of the year to enjoy fresh, local vegetables and good, easy food, and a picnic is the perfect way to do it. The picnic-friendly recipes that follow are written to serve four, but can be easily adapted for a larger crowd by simply increasing the ingredients proportionally; unlike recipes for baked goods or other fussy foods, salad recipes are very forgiving and easy to tinker with. The Pan Bagna sandwich makes a great main event, paired with a few of the vegetable salads; if cold chicken or grilled burgers are on the menu instead, try the Grilled Tomato, Onion, and Bread Salad along with one or two of the vegetable salads for a perfect meal.

Pumpkin seed oil is featured in some of these recipes. Unlike the more traditional olive oil, pumpkin seed oil is produced here in the Upper Midwest. Hay River Foods in Prairie Farms, Wisconsin, lightly toasts organic pumpkin seeds before cold-pressing them to produce a richly colored, fruity oil that’s superb whisked into salad dressings, drizzled on grilled meat or fish, or poured into a bowl to use as a bread dip. In addition to great flavor, pumpkin seed oil provides a good amount of healthful omega 3 and 6 acids. It’s available at Golden Fig Fine Foods (St. Paul), The Produce Exchange (Midtown Global Market), and some co-ops. On the high side of $25 for a bottle that holds just over a cup, this stuff probably isn’t going to replace olive oil in all your cooking, but its bold flavor allows a little to go a long way.


Pan Bagna

Red Cabbage Salad

Summer Surprise Salad

Roasted Beets with Mustard

Mediterranean Potato Salad

Grilled Tomato, Onion, and Bread Salad
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Summer 2010 Table of Contents



Will Bike for Food
By Janet Cass

Hauling Groceries
By Emily Freeman

A New Look at Lunch
By Beth Dooley

Summer Cocktails
By Emily Freeman

Edible Botanicals
By Jerry McClelland

The Changing Face of Main Street
By Kris Woll


Streetcar Salad
By Carol J. Butler


Farm to Door: Fresh Bicycle-Delivered Veggies

The Minnesota Table

Haiku Contest Winners

Grass Roots Gourmet

FriendChip Farm

Local Food at Target Field

Guse Green Grocer

Edibles Elsewhere

Two Pony Gardens (Web exclusive)

Osmo Vanska
By Kris Woll

Picnic Time!
By Teresa Marrone

Soda Pop
By Teresa Marrone

Summer Food Festivals
By Chip Walton

Read the rest
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