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Louisiana’s Secret Ingredient

Judges deliberating during the Central Louisiana Farm to School Iron Chef Competition

Judges deliberate during the Central Louisiana Farm to School Iron Chef Competition.

On October 22, the newest celebrity chefs of Alexandria, La. gathered at the Inglewood Farm’s Harvest Barn Market to celebrate National Farm to School Month. Their purpose: emerge victorious from the Farm to School Iron Chef Competition.

This competition challenged contestants to create a dish using a “secret ingredient,” in this case sweet potatoes – a fall favorite and regional staple. Each of the four teams sourced sweet potatoes from local farmers in central Louisiana. Students worked alongside parents and teachers to prepare and present their dishes at the market on the day of the competition. The event was organized by the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance (CLEDA). Consisting of economic development entities from ten parishes across Louisiana, CLEDA’s mission is to help people prosper in vibrant, thriving communities.

The morning of the event, teams assembled to present their culinary creations to a panel of judges. The panel included representatives from the local school district, local restaurant industry and university community. Judges rated the dishes on taste, presentation and spirit. And spirit was not in short supply, as students proudly described the ingredients and care they put into planning and cooking each recipe. A crowd of supporters from the adjacent farmers market looked on while the judges sampled and deliberated. The grand prize team will have their dish featured on the menu at a local restaurant.

The commitment to growing farm to school in Louisiana runs deep. According to the USDA Farm to School Census, in school year 2013-2014 schools across Louisiana purchased more than $10 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and food processors and manufacturers. Thirty-one percent of school districts report that they will buy even more local foods in future school years.

Serving that need, the Central Louisiana Farm-to-School Taskforce plans to help connect schools with resources on hands-on nutrition education, school garden development and incorporating food from local farmers into school meals. The Taskforce is part of the Central Louisiana Local Foods Initiative, a community effort that aims to strengthen Central Louisiana’s local foods economy, while increasing access to fresh foods for all the region’s residents.

If the number of people gathered at the farmers market to celebrate local food and support healthy kids is any indication, farm to school has a bright future in central Louisiana!

Don’t forget, we are currently accepting applications for the Farm to School Grant Program. USDA is committed to bringing more local food into school meals, promoting healthy eating habits and expanding markets for American farmers and producers. To best support that commitment, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program assists eligible entities in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools.

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