Harvest of the Month program infuses love of homegrown produce in students

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Food for Thought

Harvest of the Month is one of my favorite programs of Farm to School in the Hardin Schools. Although the program is not unique to Montana, or even limited to schools, it does provide unique opportunities connecting classroom, cafeteria, and community.

As the name suggests, a locally sourced item is highlighted each month, exposing students to new tastes, while supporting local farmers and ranchers. The program has been gaining momentum at Hardin Primary, Crow Agency Public School, and Fort Smith over the last three years, with students looking forward to what showcase is coming up each month. Although the Harvest of the Month is carried out slightly differently to best accommodate each school, the structure is the same.

In all three of these schools nearly every single Kindergartener through 5th grader learns about the harvest item with the FoodCorps service member. They cover how it grows, why it is important to Montana, and make a recipe with that locally grown item.

One of my favorite examples, during November student lessons are focused on different varieties of winter squash. Students in Kindergarten and first grade learn all about the (fictitious) Sas-Squash then use their senses of touch, smell, and sight to examine different varieties of squash - delicata, hubbard, spaghetti, acorn, and butternut.

However, each grade makes and tastes a different squash recipe for their class. Second grade makes a delicious spaghetti squash with tomatoes and basil, third grade warms their class with a butternut squash soup, while the fourth graders make a squash and kale quesadilla right in class! This year fifth graders tried a brand new recipe that was an instant hit: squash lasagna.

Not only do students ask for it by name, they brag to other grades about what great chefs they are and which recipes were a success.

At the end of the month, students then see their featured items in a cafeteria taste test. The whole school was able to taste local, roasted butternut squash and vote whether they “tried it, liked it, or loved it.”

Overwhelmingly, the results show that students loved the locally grown item they have learned about and tasted in the classroom and cafeteria. One of the most endearing aspects of the program is hearing students in different grades comparing recipes on the harvest of the month. These recipes and resources are available for all institutions through the MSU Harvest of the Month website, which according to the website is collaboration between the Office of Public Instruction, Montana Team Nutrition Program, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, Montana State University Extension, Gallatin Valley Farm to School, and FoodCorps Montana.

Through our years participating and crafting Harvest of the Month for Hardin Farm to School, we have had tremendous support and resources from all of these entities.

Through the Harvest of the Month, students learn about the following Montana grown or raised items: summer squash, kale, apples, winter squash, carrots, beets, grains, lentils, dairy, leafy greens, chickpeas, and this month we are currently featuring local beef.

The other great appeal of this program is the focus on local procurement, providing an easy way for institutions, like the school nutrition department, to engage with local producers, keeping food and dollars local. Through the Harvest of the Month, we can invest in local agriculture, proving students will try new foods with each new recipe. If you are interested in learning more about Harvest of the Month, contact me, Elle Ross at eleanor.ross@hardin.k12.mt.us.

Elle Ross, Executive Director at Helping Hands Food Bank, also serves at the Farm to School Coordinator for the Hardin School District.

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