The farm-to-cafeteria food preserving program of Sibley East Public Schools keeps local tomatoes, cabbage, pumpkins, squash, green beans and potatoes on school menus well beyond the fleeting Minnesota growing season into winter and spring.
The crops are grown on a one-acre garden plot that was donated to the district, which consists of an elementary school and a high school. Students in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades do the planting and tending. The peeling, slicing, blanching and pickling of the thousands of pounds of produce grown there falls to cook-manager Joan Budahn and her three-person staff.
“Last year, we had enough tomatoes for our chili and spaghetti sauce until March,” says Budahn.
In addition, they make sauerkraut to serve with hot dogs and hamburgers by shredding cabbage, mixing it with canning salt and letting it ferment in crocks for about two weeks, later freezing it. Cabbage is also shredded and frozen for use in chow mein. Cucumbers are pickled in vinegar brine and refrigerated. Pumpkin is peeled, cubed, baked and frozen to boost the nutrition of chili and for making the occasional pumpkin pie.
“This is work,” says Budahn. “I don’t know if we are saving much money because of the labor cost. But we know the produce is fresh and without preservatives and the students like it because they grow it themselves.”