CEDAR RAIDS — All Cedar Rapids elementary schools served locally grown black beans Friday as part of lunch — a logistical feat for district administrators, a North English farmer and the nutrition workers tasked with encouraging students to eat legumes at least once a week.
“It’s a food group we really struggle with kids taking,” said Suzy Ketelsen, the district’s food and nutrition manager. Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend schools serve a half-cup of legumes once a week.
While a few young students at Harrison Elementary squinched Friday at their servings of black beans and rice, many tried a bite.
“I like it with this,” fifth-grader Aniyah Miller, 11, said, holding up a Chicken Crispito — a variation on a taquito.
Getting the locally-grown beans on her tray was the culmination of years of work and community partnerships, according to the district.
“It’s a large undertaking for us, in a district this size, to procure local produce,” said dietitian Amanda Foreman.
In addition to feeding more than 16,000 students, each of the district’s 21 elementary schools has its own production kitchen. Without a central kitchen, the district is limited on storage space and restricted by delivery schedules, she said.
Acquiring non-perishable items directly from a local farmer, Jason Grimm of Grimm Family Farm in North English, let the district overcome those boundaries.
Grimm, whose farm is about 50 miles southwest of Cedar Rapids, is one of few black-bean farmers in Iowa. He met with Johnson STEAM Academy students during lunch Friday.
With a USDA Farm to School grant, Grimm also is working with the Clear Creek Amana, Iowa City and Solon school districts on local food projects, he said.
“We saw an opportunity to try out something on the menu and something in the kitchen,” Grimm said. “It’s a whole different process to make them for staff, and their production schedule making lunch.”
Before Friday, Ketelsen said staff received training on fresh bean preparation, including soaking the legumes for up to 90 minutes.
“Black beans are not something we see a lot in Iowa, so this was a fun thing for us and something we could put on ourselves and start to incorporate more,” she said.
The local beans will continue to appear on Cedar Rapids school menus, she added, after doing a lap around Harrison’s cafeteria offering students bean samples.
“I had some takers after all,” she said. “And they said they really liked it.”
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