Fall Harvest to Start the School Year

  • Chef Ann News
  • September 23, 2015
  • Comments

The first day of school varies across the country. In San Francisco, students hung up their swimsuits and shouldered their backpacks to greet their new teachers on August 17th. In New York City, summer didn’t end until September 9th. No matter the date, the first day of school in every small town and big city has something in common: delicious local summer harvest.

Popular wisdom has it that the first day of school is historically determined. Back when the U.S. was primarily an agricultural nation, kids headed back to school only after their families no longer needed them to help plant and harvest crops. So it makes sense that back-to-school season coincides with vegetable stands and farmers markets teeming with fruits and vegetables freshly picked from small, local farms.

​More and more, school districts across the country are incorporating local fresh fruits and vegetables into the student meals through Farm to School programs, and they often choose the start of the new school year to introduce new menu items. The beginning of the school year is a great time to introduce delicious local produce at home, too. Children are geared up for change from their summer routine. New teachers, new subjects, new school meals, and new classmates all make those first few weeks of school an exciting time to be adventurous. Why not try a Farm to Home program, too?

Local farmers markets make fresh fruits and vegetables fun. Check with your local paper or chamber of commerce to find a farmers market in your area, and be sure to bring your children with you to explore the sights, smells and tastes of food grown in your own backyard. Most farmers markets have entertainment and children’s activities, and lots of stands offer tastings to help you (and your kids) get to know fruits and vegetables you may not yet be familiar with.

Even if your local community doesn’t have a farmer’s market, chances are your supermarket sells local produce and labels it as such. If it doesn’t, find someone in the produce department and ask. 

You can take a page from some popular school food activities. For example, when you shop with your children, you can Make A Rainbow. Try to buy one fruit or vegetable from every color of the rainbow. Think (red) berries, beets or apples; (orange) sweet potatoes, carrots or peaches; (yellow) peppers, wax beans, or squash; (green) lettuces, scallions, snap peas; (blue) berries; and (purple) plums, eggplants, and grapes. You can have fun figuring out a ways to combine your rainbow produce for family dinners – maybe you can make a rainbow each night!

Or maybe create your own Harvest of the Month Club. This activity is modeled after programs like California Thursdays that encourage California schools to highlight a locally grown product each week or Boulder Valley School District’s Harvest of the Month program, that uses collector cards and posters to engage kids with the local selection. Pick a local fruit or vegetable that is in-season that month and focus some family meals around it. Summer squash is a great one for September. Together with your children you can research local varieties and recipes, plan meals, and experiment with cooking techniques. French-toasted zucchini bread for Sunday breakfast? It’s a delicious alternative to pancakes.

Fresh, local produce isn’t just good for your family, it’s good for your community. It means your dollars stay local and, more often than not, they are supporting smaller, more sustainable agricultural practices. Start the new (school) year with a delicious resolution: more local produce for your family. It may become part of your back-to-school routine.

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