Chef Nathan Bates (right) welcomes Alice Waters to Boyne Falls. Photo by Nickel Design, Inc.
Farm to school champion and celebrity chef Alice Waters visited Boyne Falls Public School in Charlevoix County on Friday, Sept. 22, to witness firsthand how food service director and chef Nathan Bates is using locally-sourced produce in the cafeteria and how Boyne Falls is promoting local food in the curriculum. Shortly before Waters arrived, a third-grade student approached FoodCorps service member Lindsay Hall and said, "Miss Lindsay, I think you're going to really like Miss Alice Waters because she likes eating healthy too!"
Sometimes kids articulate things just right.
Waters has been on something of a barnstorming tour of northern Michigan this past week to celebrate the local food renaissance happening in our restaurants, schools and dining rooms. On Sunday, Sept. 24, she'll appear at the National Writers Series in Traverse City to promote her new memoir, Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook; on Wednesday, Sept. 20, she attended a showing of The Baker's Wife (one of her favorite films) at The State Theatre; and she has dined at Traverse City restaurants participating in Local Harvest Restaurant Series, which features menu items that are 100 percent locally sourced or recipes from one of Waters’ cookbooks.
When Alice Waters walks down Front Street, she can duck into almost any restaurant, scan its menu for locally-sourced, organic ingredients, and measure her impact on contemporary American cuisine. That’s how far the movement has reached since she founded Chez Panisse in 1971. She could also visit countless school cafeterias in the region and smile as children learn about, and eat, locally sourced fruits, vegetables and legumes grown right here in northern Michigan. Thanks in part to her, farm to school is alive and well in public schools from Leland to Muskegon, from Boyne Falls to Frankfort. Crucially, the 10 Cents state incentive program spearheaded by the Groundwork Center has received bipartisan support in the Michigan legislature, as lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have recognized the benefit not just of healthy students but also of expanding the market for local farmers, encouraging them to stay on their land and continue growing a diverse array of crops.
When she visited Boyne Falls on Friday, Waters saw how much her work has impacted Chef Nathan Bates and his staff. This past July, Bates joined a team of northern Michiganders on a visit to Berkeley, Calif., to participate in the second annual Edible Schoolyard Academy Intensive, a three-day crash course in best practices for farm to school programs from around the globe.
The Edible Schoolyard campus at Martin Luther King Jr. middle school in Berkeley is an inspirational site, where students participate in all aspects of growing, harvesting and preparing nutritious, seasonal produce during the academic day and in after-school classes. Through hands-on experience in the kitchen and gardens, students foster a deeper appreciation of how the natural world sustains us and promotes the environmental and social well-being of our school community.
Groundwork Center food & farming program director Meghan McDermott and local food policy specialist Jennifer Schaap, along with FoodCorps service member Lindsay Hall joined Chef Nathan and Boyne Falls business manager Lori Herman got to travel outside their rural Michigan communities and see Waters' vision firsthand, along with chef Ann Cooper’s nuts-and-bolts approach to implementation. They returned home with an action plan geared to (borrowing from a Waters’ quote) literally, bring students “back to their senses”.
Boyne Falls Public Schools was so inspired by Waters' work that this 2017-18 school year it introduced real silverware and serviceware, flowers in vases on tables, food waste management with the full cycle in mind, and reduced sugar in school lunches.
“My takeaway was a deep resolve to improve the food service quality and experience for our kids in the cafeteria,” Bates wrote to McDermott following the Berkeley trip. “From recipes, procedures to décor. All around improvements could be made. Additionally, I’m committed to improving our cafeteria recycling. ... I am in the process of sourcing some better proteins to feed our kids.”
“Attending the Edible Schoolyard Training really helped to put things into perspective for me,” said Hall. “The goals my team (and I) have been working toward throughout my FoodCorps service term seem a lot more probable now that I’ve seen another program tackle and accomplish similar goals. To me, this is extremely valuable because I learn best through experience and hands on learning. As a result of attending this training, I plan to implement more hands-on, cooking lessons and to establish a more defined outdoor education environment. These are two key areas I saw at the Edible Schoolyard that helped to create interest, passion and a culture of health within the students.”
“Boyne Falls had already formed the foundations of a robust farm to school program before attending the Edible Schoolyard Intensive,” Hall added, “but that training really fueled the big picture, systems change action that happened this year. I was amazed how quickly Chef Nathan and his team implemented changes, and know that they'll continue to move forward because of the immense passion I've seen.”
“Beauty is the language of care,” the northern Michigan contingent heard Alice Waters say at the Edible Schoolyard training. Upon entering the cafeteria at Boyne Falls, visitors now see local, fresh food served to students, and care taken about the surroundings, and know that the children are cared for, in body, mind and soul.
Jennifer Schaap is the local food policy specialist who coordinates Groundwork's food and farming program in the Northern Farms Foodshed of Antrim, Charlevoix and Emmet counties. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jacob Wheeler is Groundwork's communications manager. Reach him at email@example.com.