EYOTA — At noon Thursday, 1.2 million students across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio took bites out of locally grown apples.
Those at Dover-Eyota Elementary School were among them.
"Five, four, three, two, one!" they counted down, led by Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture Dave Frederickson and state Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester). At zero, there was a collective "crunch" into Cortland apples from Mueske Family Farm.
Frederickson, Nelson and several others from the Minnesota Farm to School Leadership Team joined a couple of local farmers at the school to commemorate Gov. Mark Dayton's proclamation of October as Farm to School Month.
The group visited 12 schools in 8 days around the state. All of the schools had received Farm to School grants.
"[The grant] has been wildly successful these last four years we've been doing it," Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture Andrea Vaubel said. "We've given over $1.5 million to 83 different projects. The grant is a one-to-one match, and the Blue Cross-Blue Shield Center for Prevention helps the schools match the state funds."
The grants help schools with the resources they need to serve locally grown, healthy food in their cafeterias.
"I want to commend D-E for being a leader in this regard," Nelson said. "They told me about what was happening with school lunches using locally produced food."
The elementary school used its grant money to upgrade its kitchen from a heat-and-serve unit to one that can take food fresh from the farm and prepare a healthy meal.
Carrie Frank, the district's nutrition director, led the group on a tour of the new kitchen, showing off its new processing equipment.
"With the funds, we were able to purchase a root peeler," Frank said. "We can do 20 pounds of carrots or potatoes, and it'll rotate them. We don't have to do any peeling. And we have a Robot-Coupe, an industrial vegetable processor. You can make coleslaw, shredded potatoes and slice up your cucumbers and carrots."
Additionally, the district planted apple and pear trees at D-E High School for their agriculture classes to work with.
The Farm to School grant is part of the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation Program (AGRI). Its goal is to get local food into schools. That is commonly done by helping schools install equipment that will allow them to prepare fresh food.
It makes a difference in many ways.
"We're an open enrollment district, and we had a family who came to this district this year because of the nutrition program," Frank said.
St. Charles apple grower Carol Mueske, whose apples were eaten during the Crunch, was in attendance, along with Fred Kappauf of Rochester's Sekapp Orchard.
After lunch, the students gave the Leadership Team colored pictures of farms to express their gratitude.
The Farm to School Leadership Team includes University of Minnesota-Extension, the state Dept. of Health, Dept. of Agriculture, Dept. of Education, the Minnesota School Nutrition Association, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, Renewing the Countryside, Schoolyard Garden Coalition and USDA Rural Development.
Applications for the next round of grants are due Nov. 2. Learn more at www.mda.state.mn.us/grants/grants/mnfarmtoschool.aspx.