HOTM Profile: Lowell Public Schools

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School District Lowell Public Schools
Location Lowell, MA
Student Population 19,000
Cafeterias 28 (20 on-site, 8 satellite)
Lunches Served Per Day 14,800


Kristina Webber, Food Service Director at Lowell Public Schools, has taken well thought out steps to increase and improve upon Lowell’s participation in the Harvest of the Month program. 

Procurement

Lowell Public Schools has sourced from many farms in the Massachusetts area, including Manheim Farms in Whatley, Czajkowski Farm in Hadley, Souza Farm in Rehoboth, and more! As they are a large district, they initially sourced solely for their elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. By starting off with a small portion of their schools, they were able to start procuring locally on smaller scale and expanded the following year to more schools in their district.

Promotion & Implementation

Webber worked to develop a website promoting and sharing the successes of Lowell’s Harvest of the Month program, which can be viewed at: www.lpsfarm2school.com. Lowell also sends out a monthly newsletter that highlights specific activities and ideas from different schools in the district with feedback from staff and students.

This is a way to help get the greater school community (beyond food service) involved in the Harvest of the Month program.

Creativity with regard to recipes has helped Lowell school district turn previously unpopular recipes into big hits. Instead of their regular Caesar salad, for November’s month of kale they created a kale Caesar salad with roasted chickpeas instead of croutons and called it a kale Caesar salad so it would be new to the kids.  

Advice & Challenges

Webber and her team welcomed the challenge of turning the month’s vegetable into something their students would enjoy. Instead of just making carrot sticks, they roasted them and mixed the puree into hummus with commodity chickpeas for a creative twist on the month’s theme.

She recommended anyone new to the program, “to start small and keep it simple.” It’s hard to get traction if the focus is on showing off instead of figuring out what kinds of recipes will be accepted by students. Also, she recommends making sure senior leadership is on board, including principals, to help not only with behind-the-scenes administrative work but also help promoting the program. “Newsletters can also be a big help,” she says, especially if you want to try to reach parents or staff directly to share with information about your program.

Classroom Connections

Along with the amazing work that Lowell Food and Nutrition does in the cafeterias and classrooms, local urban agriculture organization Mill City Grows, provides in-school and after school lessons that integrate Harvest of the Month at 12 different Lowell Public Schools. Val Snowden, Education Program Manager at Mill City Grows, says,  “by incorporating multi-disciplinary nutritional education centered around HOTM crops, students are learning vital information that will support them in making healthy choices and will give them the opportunity to try HOTM produce multiple times over the course of the month.”

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The Parts of a Plant lesson begins by teaching a plant part game (basically head, shoulders, knees and toes but with plant parts). From there, students are asked if they think they eat all of the parts of the plants, which leads to an inquiry-based discussion about the produce we eat and what part of the plant it is. We make a chart with the 6 plant parts, and help students categorize produce into those parts. From there, we make a plant part salad (featuring HOTM produce which we discuss in detail depending on the month). During months (like March) where the HOTM is not a “plant part” or typical salad item, we will add a “special HOTM ingredient,” discuss its nutrition benefits, and how they might see the HOTM ingredient in their salad and in their cafeteria.

Recipes

Tomatoes (September) Sweet Corn & Tomato Salad
Pears (October) Pear Ginger Parfait
Kale (November) Kale Caesar Salad
Carrots (December) Carrot Hummus