i-Three Issue Corps – Making Michigan Recipes Work for School Kitchens

What is the recipe for farm to school success? Pun intended. There are many ingredients, but the recipe only comes together if the cook has the right combination of skills to follow the steps.

Michigan has a well-developed Farm to Institution Network which helps institutions locate, buy and use seasonal Michigan ingredients through its Cultivate Michigan Campaign. In our previous work with the Network, we learned that many school food service staff lack the culinary skill set needed for preparing meals from scratch. We have also learned that there is a lack of Michigan-specific information on seasonal menu planning and proper food safety practices for whole, fresh produce. We know from both research and practice that interest in farm to school in Michigan is high and continues to grow. However, demand from school foodservice directors for local foods has not been met, in part due to challenges such as a lack of skilled labor.

Our objective is to develop and implement an applied learning curriculum through a pilot of five on-site, regional trainings to help food service professionals increase knowledge and skills to handle and prepare whole, fresh, seasonal Michigan foods and ultimately increase institutional use of Michigan agricultural products. Skills covered will include produce preparation and handling, proper storage, and seasonal menu planning. The curriculum will also include a variety of multimedia resources specific to Michigan, including videos, guides and tip sheets. These resources will be vetted in the pilot trainings and then made publicly available online. Our participation in the i-Three Issue Corps is super-powering these online resources. More about that in our next post. Stay tuned!

As part of our participation in the Corps, we were asked to take an impact statement writing course and to write an impact statement for our project. Then, at the i-Three Issue Corps conference, we worked with fellow Michigander Paul Pangaro, an expert concept mapper from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, to diagram our project within the school food service environment. These two exercises helped us to anticipate and frame our project in terms of impact and to keep that impact in focus as we design the curriculum and resources. Here are the impacts we are aiming for:

  • Economic: Increased local purchasing by schools creates a measurable economic impact on local agricultural producers
  • Social: Healthier school lunch options are made accessible to youth. Youth eaters will also create more personal connections and understanding of where their food comes from and how it is grown
  • Environmental: Food miles for school food will decrease due to local sourcing

The bulk of our extension work in Community Food Systems is not measured neatly by numbers, so impact statements are crucial to telling our story. You can learn more about writing impact statements here: https://www.extension.org/impact-statement-reporting/

Our project's concept map at the i-Three Issue Corps Conference
Our project’s concept map at the i-Three Issue Corps Conference