Michael Flynn, left, nutritional director for Regional School Unit 12, and Chelsea Elementary School Principal Allison Myers in the school’s kitchen Tuesday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

CHELSEA — The two chefs made chicken tacos using donated ingredients through the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, with chicken from Commonwealth Poultry in Gardiner.

Also on the menu: fish tacos from the Fishermen Feeding Mainers program, pineapple coleslaw made from pineapple trees in Palermo, and roasted beets, potatoes and carrots from Goranson Farm in Dresden.

The food was on display at an educational cooking event Regional School Unit 12 hosted for teachers and staff. School nutritional staff plan to introduce the locally sourced ingredients in future lunches for district students.

The Sewall Foundation teamed up with Maine Farm and Sea Cooperative, which RSU 12 is a part of, and brought in two chefs, Ronald Adams and Tyler Guerin, to make a school meal for the RSU 12 staff and explained the process of putting together a school lunch menu to the RSU 12 staff.

School Nutritional Director Michael Flynn said the staff appreciated “the healthiness and the fact that it’s grown here.”

“It’s important to make connections to where their food is coming from,” said Maggie Blumenthal, of the RSU 12 FoodCorps. “ … I don’t think (students) realize sometimes, so it’s amazing to have them learn that.”

Blumenthal said she loves the idea that children can pass the farms on the way to school and know they will eat those ingredients in their lunches.

The Maine Farm and Sea Cooperative’s mission is to get healthy food to Mainers, including showing institutions how they can do so. They provide training, like the event Friday, and show how to use the food in the menu.

Flynn said he will have a discussion with staff in the next couple of weeks about adding the chicken tacos and fresh vegetables to the school lunch menu. He said if he can get the conversation started early enough with local farms, he can set up an opportunity to get the ingredients from local farms instead of ordering nationally through a farm that may be states away.

“It’s a matter of us having the right conversations with the farmer and (organization) on our end to give respectful information,” Flynn said. “We preorder and have conversations in January and February on what September’s menu will look like” and having that conversation so the farms can plant enough seeds so they can handle our order.

The district, which serves around 700 kids a day, covers the towns of Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Whitefield and Windsor.

He received an email at the beginning of the school year from the Maine Department of Education with news of an anonymous donor’s gift to the program, Fishermen Feeding Mainers. He quickly jumped on the opportunity to supply fresh, local fish from Portland Harbor to the students in RSU 12.

The program is still running strong almost six months later.

Flynn said he “takes what local fish are available to him,” adding that he may not know what type of fish he is picking up when he drives down to Portland to get it, but usually ends up with Pike or Haddock. He picks up the fish and does the processing himself. He then freezes the fish for use in the weeks to come.

“We try to menu it twice a month, so it’s working well,” Flynn said at the beginning of March. “If we are serving 480 students two times a month, there are around 1,000 portions. So probably 300 pounds of fish.”

Michael Flynn, left, student nutritional director for Regional School Unit 12, and Chelsea Elementary School Principal Allison Myers in the school’s kitchen. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Robin Kerber, the Farm and Sea coordinator from the Department of Education, said the relationship between the school and the Fishermen Feeding Mainers program highlights the ability for schools to locally source ingredients.

“That program directly supports the fishermen, the fish cutters, the business that makes the ice and everyone along the hyper-local supply chain before it ends on a student’s tray,” Kerber said.

And eating local goes beyond a “students’ tray,” Kerber added, making the point that it goes beyond having fresh ingredients.

“Keeping your food dollars local has a significant impact on our communities,” she said. “Our farmers are our neighbors, and by supporting their livelihood, we’re preserving farmland and natural spaces on our state.”

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