Dell Rapids School District students are benefiting from the fruits of local growers’ labors not only during National Farm to School Month, but year-round.
The school district’s partnership with Hoversten Orchard north of Brandon, SD, is just one example. Over the past two months, orchard owner Dave Hoversten has been personally delivering a wide variety of apples grown at the orchard – up to 800 apples, or 8 bushels, a week. As a result, Dell Rapids students have gotten to munch on a wide variety of apples that include Honeycrisp, Gala, Zestar!, Sweet Sixteen, Ginger Gold, and Williams’ Pride.
Deb Emmert, Dell Rapids Food Service Director, said she’s been partnering with Hoversten for several years to supply apples to the lunchroom during his regular growing season. “The best part of going through a local orchard is that we get types of apples kids have never heard of before,” Emmert said. “The response we’ve gotten is remarkable. Students love the taste and they can tell when we have to go back to store-bought.”
Dell Rapids’ breakfast and lunch programs are operated by Lunchtime Solutions Inc., a K-12 food service management company based out of Dakota Dunes, SD. The apples are being served as part of Lunchtime Solutions’ monthly Farmers Market Selections program, through which locally grown produce is featured on school lunch menus accompanied by education about the fruit or vegetable and information about the local grower. October is also National Farm to School Month, which celebrates the connections happening all over the country between children and local food.
Emmert said she tries to serve local fruits and vegetables as much as possible throughout the year, partnering with several other growers in the area.
“There are lots of reasons why it’s important to serve local foods,” she said. “These growers contribute to the school district through being located here, so supporting them helps everyone. And the education our kids receive is great – they find out more about the food they eat and see they can actually go and pick it themselves.”
The burgeoning demand for locally grown foods is one reason Hoversten Orchard has stayed in business for 30 years, Hoversten said. Not only is there more of a market for the fruit of the orchard’s 5,000 apple trees, he’s been able to expand the crops he provides to corn, beans and other products. But it’s the apples that have everyone’s taste buds hooked.
“Apples you get at the store are picked before they are ripe,” he said. “We wait for them to develop more before picking them, so they have a better flavor. A ripe apple picked off the tree is the best you can get.”
Emmert and Hoversten both said they look forward to continuing to work together. “They are the sweetest people and they provide excellent customer service,” Emmert said of the Hoversten family. Several family members work together to run the orchard and farms. “I’m glad our students are able to benefit from this partnership and the orchard does, too. Everyone wins.”
For the past 15 years, Lunchtime Solutions has provided healthy and delicious meals to Dell Rapids students through the schools’ breakfast and lunch programs.
“Our program centers on getting kids excited about eating lunch at school,” said Jennifer Hopf, Area Director for Lunchtime Solutions. “We think it’s important to provide a wide variety of menu options and make sure students have unlimited access to fresh fruits and vegetables every day.”