Roseville schools highlight local eats

courtesy of Roseville Area Schools • Roseville Area Schools’ once-monthly “Minnesota Thursday” lunch features food produced and grown within 300 miles of the city. It, along with another program, “Harvest of the Month,” features local, whole foods. Jan. 11’s Minnesota Thursday lunch included a beef hotdog made in Cannon Falls, a bun out of St. Cloud and coleslaw made from cabbage grown in Northfield, among other food.

courtesy of Roseville Area Schools • A Minnesota Thursday lunch from September, featuring a Ferndale Market turkey burger, bun sourced out of St. Cloud and herb-roasted zucchini and summer squash sourced through The Good Acre.

file photo • The Good Acre in Falcon Heights works with Roseville Area Schools to source locally grown food for its lunch programs.

courtesy of Roseville Area Schools • The “Harvest of the Month” is a featured, locally grown vegetable at Roseville Area Schools — each one gets a fact-filled poster. One of the benefits of serving such veggies and other whole foods, says Angela Richey, the nutrition services supervisor for Roseville Area Schools, is that it allows nutrition services staffers to work on cooking from scratch.

Lunch programs tap food hub, small farms


The kids are eating more than all right.

The monthly “Minnesota Thursday” lunch offering at Roseville Area Schools on Jan. 11 was a beef hotdog sourced from Thousand Hills Farms in Cannon Falls, atop a whole wheat bun baked in St. Cloud by Pan-O-Gold Baking.

The hotdog was paired with coleslaw made from cabbage grown in Northfield and it was all washed down with milk produced in Minnesota, and, natch, Wisconsin — all the Minnesota Thursday foods are sourced from within 300 miles from Roseville.

If it seems like this modern lunchroom fare — locally sourced, whole foods — doesn’t seem like the school lunch of old, that’s on purpose, says Angela Richey, the nutrition services supervisor for Roseville Area Schools.

“For generations now we’ve sort of lost that connection with the fact that food has to be grown,” she says. “It doesn’t come from the grocery store — it comes from the ground.”

This fact is underlined by another Roseville lunchroom initiative: the “Harvest of the Month.” It’s a featured vegetable such as zucchini sourced through the local Hmong American Farmer’s Association, or broccoli that’s also grown in Northfield, albeit at a different farm than where the aforementioned cabbage came from.

Richey started in District 623 in July 2016 and the Minnesota Thursday concept started last April. 

The local food days aren’t confined to just Roseville public schools, either. Richey has them in St. Anthony-New Brighton district schools as well as St. Rose of Lima and St. Jerome Catholic schools, in Roseville, and Maplewood, respectively, and the Capitol View Center in Little Canada.

Both once-a-month lunch programs are in 16 schools in all. They have the potential to reach some 9,000 students, though Richey says they’re likely ending up on the trays of around 5,900 students each time they’re offered — kids still have other lunch options those days, including what’s available on the food line, lots of fresh fruit and the salad bar.

Showing kids that food doesn’t just come from a box isn’t easy, though. Sourcing enough food that can feed that many students — it takes 400 pounds of cabbage, Richey says, to cover a single day it’s on the menu — depends on help from others with similar aims.


Spoke from the

 food hub

According to Richey, Falcon Heights-based The Good Acre has been a “wonderful resource for getting in touch with farmers,” helping to make the Harvest of the Month days possible.

The Good Acre, which opened fall 2015 and is a recognizable landmark on Larpenteur Avenue just west of Snelling Avenue, serves to link people with local food.

“Being that we’re a nonprofit food hub, our main mission is to support farmers,” says Nick Mabe, the organization’s manager of warehouse logistics and sales.

Mabe says that farmers face a number of barriers when it comes to working with a large organization like a school district that, for instance, wants to buy 400 pounds of cabbage. Farmers can have a hard time meeting the volume of orders and preparing and delivering the produce. 

On the school district’s side, Mabe says, The Good Acre streamlines the process — it can work with multiple farmers to put together all that cabbage, prep it and deliver it, while Richey, for instance, only has to communicate with The Good Acre.

The nonprofit supplies produce to other metro area school districts — Robbinsdale, Hopkins and White Bear Lake, among others — and offers another service to the districts in its teaching kitchens at its Larpenteur Avenue location.

Richey says one of the benefits of buying whole foods is that it gives nutrition services staff an opportunity to cook from scratch, developing new recipes while, as she puts it, “moving away from needing [only] a box cutter as our cooking equipment.”

Mabe says The Good Acre has hosted nutrition services staffers from a number of districts to go over preparing new vegetables. “Just because we can sell you butternut squash doesn’t mean people know how to cook it,” he says. The organization also offers cooking classes to the public.

Recently, Mabe says, he and four others from The Good Acre headed to Brimhall Elementary for a Minnesota Thursday lunch that featured sweet potatoes that had been sourced through the nonprofit.

“It was really great, a lot of fun,” he says.

In the future, it’s possible schools could get more than produce through The Good Acre — Mabe says it’s looking to get into moving dairy, eggs and meat.


Drummie roll, please

School lunches are a balancing act, Richey says, and she always makes sure to have options for picky eaters and kids who don’t eat meat. She aims to offer food for the majority of kids, while also putting food on cafeteria tables that they don’t see at home.

“Some kids had never eaten a chicken drumstick before,” she says, referring to the October Minnesota Thursday that featured the drummies out of northeast Nebraska. Richey noted that students from immigrant families were more familiar with the bone-in chicken than others.

“Moving back towards whole foods is just good for all students,” she says, while stressing she passes no judgments about what kids eat at home.

Another recent Minnesota Thursday featured diced turkey thighs bought directly from Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls.

John Peterson, the third-generation farmer who owns Ferndale, says it’s a win-win relationship with the school district: It buys large quantities of less expensive cuts from the turkey, such as thighs, that the farm has a harder time selling.

“Simply put, it’s a program that makes sense, by helping to sustain the local economy and support independent farmers, while also offering students a clean, healthy meal,” Peterson says, adding he admires districts like Roseville that source from small farms. “It makes a real difference.”

Kids’ tastes are changing, too, Richey points out. A couple years ago when she worked for St. Paul Public Schools, she tried three different times to get students to embrace hummus, with no success. Now, she says, the chickpea spread is totally accepted.

“I think people underestimate the palettes of kids,” Richey says, adding that when students see their peers scarfing down some locally sourced chicken drumsticks or turkey thighs at the lunch table, there’s some “great positive peer pressure” to do the same.


Richey urges parents to have their kids try the Minnesota Thursday meal or the Harvest of the Month vegetable, or to come have lunch with their child. “Come on a Minnesota Thursday,” she says to parents.

The next Minnesota Thursday is Feb. 1 and it’s a baked potato bar, with Yukon gold potatoes from the Hmong American Farmer’s Association and house-made turkey chili made with turkey sourced from Ferndale Market.


– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7813. 

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