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Extension farmer training helps keep Minneapolis Schools meals safe

Media Contact: Allison Sandve, Extension news media relations manager,, 612-626-4077 (office) or 651-492-0811 (mobile).

Minneapolis, Minn. (10/18/2017)—Minneapolis Public Schools is committed to providing fresh, locally grown farm fruits and vegetables to serve students through its Farm-to-School program.
Its collaboration with University of Minnesota Extension helps make it possible.

“When this produce is consumed raw, there isn’t a processing step to reduce any potential microbial contamination,” said Extension educator Annalisa Hultberg, who works with fruit and vegetable farmers across the state including more than a dozen that contract with Minneapolis Public Schools. “Good handling practices become especially important in populations like children, who have underdeveloped immune systems.”
Variety of vegetables

Reducing the risks associated with the growing and packing of fruits and vegetables is key, she said. Throughout the school year, small to medium-sized farms deliver more than 20 different varieties of fresh produce, from beets and Brussel sprouts to squash, kale and carrots to H. Brooks, a wholesale produce distributor in New Brighton. It’s washed, chopped and bagged, then trucked to school kitchens for kids to eat, generating “just lots of really positive feedback,” said Kate Seybold, the district’s farm to school coordinator.

How risks are reduced

“We offer education and technical assistance to the growers by visiting their farms every summer and looking at their processes,” Hultberg said. “Farmers are eager to learn about these practices.” For the past five years, the educator has led each farm visit, which includes Seybold and a representative from the distributor with these goals in mind:

  • Help farmers develop a comprehensive farm food safety plan before the season begins.
  • Teach farmers how to apply the same standards used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its Good Agricultural Practices audit, which is not required for smaller growers.
  • Make recommendations for improvement, such as adding hand-washing facilities in the field, following clean harvesting practices, cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces, and maintaining clean storage facilities on the farm.

“We’ve always tried to be safe, but now having worked with Extension, we look at things with a new set of eyes and certain ways of doing things have now become automatic,” said Rae Rusnak, owner of L & R Poultry and Produce in Kenyon. “We are able to quickly identify risks.” Farmers also receive guidance from the distributor, H. Brooks, said the company’s marketing director Nina Brooks Haag.

“Safety a huge priority for us and working with Extension, providing food safety training is a great way for us to ensure that and help our farmers along the way,” Seybold said. “We want [growers] to be partners with us, not just a vendor that we just buy from. We believe really strongly in the value of a strong local food system.”

Other school districts around the state apply aspects of Extension’s farm food safety approach, too, Hultberg said. The district reports no contamination issues have occurred.
“It’s a great model that’s being replicated across the nation. It’s been very rewarding to see the amount of fresh produce that’s being served at these schools.”


Source: Annalisa Hultberg, Extension Educator, University of Minnesota-St. Paul campus, 612-625-1951.

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