replay of episode 86: Garden and Agriculture Educator Extraordinaire Changing how our schools eat one cafeteria at a time | Patti Armbrister | Hinsdale, MT


Patti Armbrister is an educator and policy changer who looks for positive solutions to producing and eating locally grown food in our schools. She teaches agricultural education in a rural school but is making change that affects our farmers, students, and families as she connects locally grown healthy food with nutrition and education.  After building a passive solar green house and root cellar in the Hinsdale Outdoor Classroom, this phenomenal speaker and farmer who is also a self-proclaimed “beef geek” shares her story of getting recognizable meat and real potatoes into the school cafeteria. Be inspired to make change in your local school district by learning about the wellness committee, food miles, and how change in our food systems starts at home.



Feeding Kids in Schools

What do the kids like to eat from the garden? Do they eat winter squash?

We’re teaching them to eat winter squash, pie pumpkins process them in the kitchen have a processing day where we invite students and the cooks in, and we process the pumpkins into 16 cup bag size which the cooks need to use for their recipes.

We have a great time! The kids love learning new things. They are so empowered they know they did it with their own hand. The day we serve the pumpkin bars, the cooks tell the kids who worked in the kitchen they just  beam with pride.

unbelievable the kids had

When I worked at Head Start we would do a cooking project like once every two weeks or once a month and it was such a great way to 

Cucumbers is great  the thing that drives me crazy that when they feed the kids carrots, or celery etc, they seem to always serve it with Ranch Dressing. The carrots I’ve seen a lot are the ones in the little plastic bags.CookingInClassroom

The pencil sharpener ones? The ones that look like your little finger?

The put preservatives on them. I try to get people to not eat them.

I thought they were just the little baby carrots. They will be in the little individual wrapped plastic bags and they can be watery sometimes, you know why the kids want ranch dressing to eat them.

If they would just list the ingredients, the very first ingredient that is made with soybean oil,

Unless you’re gonna eat a handful of soy beans, that an high fructose

If someone gave you a handful of soybeans or corn, you wouldn’t eat it in it’s raw state, why would you eat it in a product?

They are feeding it in our schools it must be good, I think there’s something to be said, they’re trying their best.

There’s a great website and  they talk about where money comes from to influence our politicians. They use an example of putting healthy fruit in our snacks for kids and the processing lobbyists changing form fresh to nutritious food so they could include things like fruit cups. I remember the things that drove me crazy were the pineapple sticks in plastic bags too and change it to processed food instead of locally grown.

If schools get their local wellness committees working properly, those will self-adjust. We really hammered away at it by giving the students a voice. The wellness committee is the cooks, and myself, and the health/PE teacher, superintendent, local grandmother who’s  a nurse,  and the student body president. 

When I talk to the student body president to get their opinion  of what needs to change in the school, they know instantly what they want. So I took to bat to make those changes happen!  They wanted real potatoes and recognizable meat, so we made it happen! For the last 2 years, we’ve had real potatoes, and when we got those they were the first real potatoes served in the school in 16 years.

Didn’t you tell us something at the conference, it’s a rule they have to have one of these committees? You can go to your school and find out if this committee is meeting, and then go from there.

Part of the Federal School lunch program. If they get school lunch, any subsidy from the USDA, it’s supposed to be functioning.

OK listeners so get out there and find out what your kids are eating in their school lunches and find out if there is a wellness committee and make sure our kids are getting the healthiest lunches they can get!

Something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful in your climate?

Potatoes are very very successful. We get our potatoes from the Montana Potato lab, we planted 5 different varieties this year, we planted variety that are super good to eat. They want the old fashioned baker potato and the kids want something cool and bright colored! We make potatoes salad out of the ones that are cool and unusual! And grow russets for the cooks! We grow red potatoes for the mashed potatoes, wow the kids dig ’em, and deliver them to the cooks. We have little waste on those days!

What kind of colored potatoes are you growing?

They grow everything to huckleberry gold, that’s purple on the outside and yellow on the inside, and purple, purple, and blue ones and yukon gold. They get into wild stuff. Looks really cool in a potato salad!

Huckleberry gold I’m gonna have to sound those, I’m not sure about eating a potato that’s purple on the inside, or blue? I do like to buy new seeds, and crazy stuff so maybe I’ll have to try those next year.

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