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For a school district in Kentucky to source local produce for use in the cafeteria can be a difficult proposition, given that most of the state’s produce is out of season during the school year.
But Shelby County Public Schools and Mulberry Orchard have teamed up to provide students with a fresh, farm-to-lunch tray option for lunches. Through a distributer, Mulberry Orchard also supplies Kentucky Country Day School and The de Paul School in Louisville with apples.
“Apples are a great place to start because they have a good shelf life,” said Amanda Gajdzik of Mulberry Orchard, which is on Mulberry Pike near Cropper. “We’ve been supplying them with apples for about a month now, and it’s going well.”
Gajdzik said the orchard isn’t able to provide the district’s full order of apples yet, but they’re working up to it.
“They’re using ours for the whole apples they offer, right now,” she said. “Because we’re not in full production yet, we’re not able to supply all that they need, but we hope we can do more in the future.”
In just their fourth year of production, Mulberry Orchard’s dwarf trees are not filled in completely, Gajdzik said.
Evell Coomer, the district’s food service coordinator, was the driving force behind the fresh addition.
“Evell had been on me for about three years now to do this,” Gajdzik said with a laugh. “And our trees are finally big enough to do some wholesale, so we thought this would be a great place to start.”
Coomer said the farm-to-school program is just beginning and that she would like to see it grow in the future.
“We’d like to utilize more local produce; that’s our goal,” she said. “But delivery and logistics have proven to be a little bit of a hurdle for us.”
Gajdzik agreed, noting the difficultly of getting to 10 different schools.
“It’s tough because Shelby County doesn’t have a central location to deliver to,” she said. “So we have to deliver to all 10 schools. So what we’ve done is she’s having us deliver to half of the schools one week and the other half the next.”
Comer said that’s worked in this instances, and she hopes its something to build on.
“I’ve spoken with some others [farms] – but again the logistics are something we have to work on – but I’m just excited about what we’re able to do right now. We’ve had Jonathan Gold, Gold Rush and Pink Ladies, they grow such a wide variety of apples that we’ve been able to try some different ones.”
And Comer said the students really have enjoyed the fresh apples. In fact Collins High School had sold out on Thursday.
“They taste so much better, and the students have really enjoyed them,” she said. “These apples aren’t treated. They don’t have that waxy finish that you see a lot with the ones at the grocery store.”
And students are now seeing the apples go full circle.
“We do a lot of school tours out here,” Gajdzik said. “We’ve had more than a thousand students come out this year, so it’s kind of neat that they get to see the backside of the operation – how we pick the apples, how we wash the apples – and now those same apples are in the lunchroom.”
Coomer said it’s a learning experience, for both her and the students.
“This just enhances the learning experience for the students,” she said. “And for us, we’ll keep working on the delivery issues and investigating other opportunities as we go on. We’re taking baby steps, but we really want to offer more and more local produce.”