PRESTON — Maryland kicked off the state’s eighth annual Maryland Homegrown School Lunch Week with a Farm to School celebration at the newly renovated Preston Elementary School Thursday, Sept. 10.
Gov. Larry Hogan designated Sept. 14 to 18 Homegrown School Lunch Week. To get the celebration started, Caroline County Public Schools showcased its locally-grown lunch menu to state and local officials, along with special education activities for students.
Thursday’s lunch menu featured bison burgers from SB Farms in Hurlock, chicken taco salad from Purdue Farms in Salisbury, watermelon slices from Harris Farms in Preston, corn on the cob with cilantro butter from Taylor’s Produce in Preston and peach cobbler from Blades Orchard in Preston.
Students also got to visit tasting stations featuring watermelon gazpacho from Harris Farms and Clayton Farms, and Maryland crab soup from Blough’s Seafood in Denton and Clayton Farms in Denton.
Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder joined Caroline County Public Schools Superintendent John D. Ewald and Preston Elementary Principal Dr. Lois McCoy for an all-school assembly to start the day.
“Our goal is to see more local, fresh food in school lunches, not only to improve childhood health, but also to help them learn about the importance of our farms to our environment and daily lives,” said Bartenfelder, who owns a farm in Preston. “Homegrown School Lunch Week not only provides effective learning activities, it can be an economic opportunity for Maryland farmers and it’s fun for students and other participants.”
During the assembly, Bartenfelder answered questions from Preston Elementary students Ayla Basar and DeSean Carter.
Carter asked why the program is important.
“It provides nutritious, good food for you,” Bartenfielder said. “It is healthy for you. That way you will know, and learn at a very young age how important it is.”
Basar asked what Bartenfelder’s favorite part about being a farmer is.
“It is the connection that you have with nature,” he said. “Being out there, starting in some cases with just a seed. You start it, and it grows. You have to take care of it the whole time. You start it in the beginning and grow it until the end, and people eat it.”
Bartenfelder presented a proclamation to Preston Elementary for Maryland Homegrown School Lunch Week.
“Preston Elementary School’s staff and students are honored to host the statewide Farm to School kickoff celebration,” McCoy said. “What a wonderful educational opportunity for our students to learn about how food is grown in their local communities.
“It is my hope that we can continue these programs and sustain the partnership that we have with our local farmers,” she said.
“Caroline County Public Schools are thrilled to welcome Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder to Preston Elementary School today as well as showcase the healthy and nutritious meals available to students as a result of our Farm to School Program, and the skilled food service workers in our schools’ kitchens,” Ewald said.
Joining Ewald were a host of local officials, including Caroline County Commissioners Larry Porter, Wilbur Levengood and Dan Franklin; Del. John Mautz, R-37B-Talbot; Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore, Caroline County Tourism Director Kathy Mackel and Caroline Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Angela Visintainer.
“It is quite an honor for the state to choose us to do the kickoff,” said CCPS Supervisor of Food Services Beth Brewster. “Preston Elementary was a great fit for it with the new renovations and new cafeteria, and particularly since it is in the middle of farm country. Blades Orchard is right around the corner. Secretary Bartenfelder’s farm is close by here along with Harris Farm and Taylor Farms. We are lucky to get the food right off the field and onto the tray today.
“It is great having our Chesapeake Culinary Center students showcasing their skills today,” she said. “It is about teaching our students where their food comes from so they can go out into the world and appreciate their food, and hopefully extend on their culinary art skills.”
Between the school assembly and lunch, local and state dignitaries toured Outstanding Dreams Alpaca Farm and Blades Orchard.
Outstanding Dreams is owned by Phil and Vickie Liske. The farm features products crafted from alpaca fleece at the Outstanding Dreams Farm Store. At the farm store, guests can find an array of products made from the fleece, including scarves, clothing, hats, children’s toys and raw fiber.
The farm will be hosting its seventh annual Alpaca Festival Sept. 19 and 20.
The next stop was between Preston and Federalsburg at Blades Orchard, owned by Lynda and Stephen Blades. Blades Orchard features a variety of fruit, strawberries, blueberries, 35 types of peaches, 30 types of apples, nectarines, plums, cherries and melons.
The Bladeses recently opened Faulkner Branch Cidery and Distilling Company at the orchard, which features the Eastern Shore’s first cidery.
Beginning Saturday and Sunday, Blades Orchard will be open on the weekends through October for the community to come and pick fruit. The orchard will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
Th final stop came after lunch for a tour of the new kitchen at the Chesapeake Culinary Center in Denton. The former school sat vacant for 25 years, but was revitalized by the town of Denton into a culinary school for Caroline County Public Schools.