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The Annual Harvest Challenge: Student Teams Supported by Chefs Move to Schools and Farm to School

The annual Harvest Challenge, menu planning and cooking event for high school students, is an important example of how aspiring chefs get started and learn to create winning recipes.

This exciting contest, which is now going into its 8th year, challenges teams of high school students – including staff and chef mentors – to develop a creative, appetizing and visually appealing school lunch entrée and side dish while incorporating locally grown foods. At the same time, the entrée and side dish must comply with USDA National School Lunch nutrition standards and meet a budget of $1 per person per serving (entrée and side dish combined). “This is a fun and challenging event for our high school students that really enables them to appreciate the hard work that goes into school food programs,” says Ashlee Gabrielson, director of the Vernon County Farm to School Program in Wisconsin.

Chef Monique Hooker mentors De Soto students at the Harvest Challenge.

At the 7th annual Harvest Challenge event sponsored by the Vernon County Farm to School Program, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, Dr. Katie Wilson, served as a speaker and celebrity judge. There, she presented the winning awards and  said, “Thank you to all who dedicate their time and energy to Farm to School and the Chefs Move to Schools Initiative throughout the school year.”

In a very close competition, six Wisconsin school districts were represented in 2015. Hillsboro High School aspiring chefs won the judge’s choice by a single vote, taking home the traveling trophy with their delicious Italian BBQ and Corn. Viroqua High School won for student choice, with their tasty breakfast taco, cinnamon sugar chips, and spicy fruit salsa; and Kickapoo High School took home the community choice vote by preparing harvest chili and pumpkin muffins. We can’t wait to see what they cook up for 2016!.

The Harvest Challenge seeks to create healthier students and stronger rural economies by linking school food service programs with local food producers. The Challenge highlights the many delicious benefits of fresh and nutritious local foods in school lunch programs. We encourage schools across the country to partner with their local Farm to School program and host their own Harvest Challenge this fall!

This is yet another activity that highlights how chefs and schools are working together to engage youth about food in a fun and appealing way. As a part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, Chefs Move to Schools seeks to utilize the creativity and culinary expertise of chefs to help schools ensure that America’s youngest generation grows up healthy. Chefs nationwide are lending their creativity and skills to assist in schools’ efforts in the classroom, cafeteria, and culinary trainings/demonstrations.

Chefs interested in volunteering with Chefs Move to Schools and partner with schools in their area can register at Chefs Move to Schools.  Schools can also find a local chef volunteer using the chef locator tool.