Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Blend Between A School and Community


Stafford Schools USD 349 may be small. But leaders sure don't "loaf" around when it comes to big ideas. Stafford Schools has converted its Family and Consumer Science classroom to a commercial kitchen. It's giving students a career pathway for their future. In addition, it has sparked cooperation among hometown businesses and the school to make new opportunities for all involved.

 "The Commercial Kitchen is a project that was built out of a desire to have culinary arts curriculum available at SHS," said Mary Jo Taylor, superintendent at Stafford. "This hope became a reality when a grant from the state became available called a Rigorous Program of Study (RPOS grant).  The effort to earn the grant was successful.  For the past two years, the Board of Education and staff have worked at planning curriculum and kitchen space.  Teachers have had to be trained for this unique method of teaching and learning.  In the end, the entire Family and Consumer Science Room has been remodeled and turned into a commercial kitchen.  It is an exciting new venture for the school."
Bread made from a 60/40 whole wheat/white flour blend is being tested by the school and Stafford County Flour Mills.
One of those ventures is working with Stafford County Flour Mills, maker of Hudson Cream Flour. In 1881, Gustav Krug migrated from Saxony, Germany, and settled on a farm north of Hudson, Kansas. His father, Karl, was in the milling business in Germany. In 1905, Gustav's and his brother-in-law Otto Sondregger organized the "Hudson Milling Company" and began producing 75 barrels of flour a per day. More than 100 years later, it was named as one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Commerce by the Kansas Sampler Foundation.  It is one of the last independent flour mills remaining in the U.S. Many home bakers (like me!) are already loyal to the Hudson Cream Flour brand.

But a new cooperative endeavor with Stafford Schools is addressing the need for school cafeterias to comply with new USDA guidelines for whole grains in students' diets. As of the 2014-15 school year, all grains served in schools as part of the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program must be whole-grain rich. Currently, school cafeterias must use baked products using at least a 50/50 blend of flour - 50 percent whole wheat flour and 50 percent enriched, all-purpose white flour. However, food service directors cannot order such a product already mixed, according to Superintendent Taylor. For example, Stafford Schools food service director Sheila Zehr mixes it by hand.  

Taylor approached Stafford County Flour Mills President Reuel Foote about a partnership which would team the school's new culinary career track with the mill's products and name recognition. Taylor also worked with Stafford County Economic Development Director Carolyn Dunn, who suggested developing mixes for for school cafeterias and recipes that optimize the flavor. 
At a fundraiser meal recently,  Culinary Arts Instructor Denise Dickson said they are working with the mill on a mix that uses 60 percent whole wheat flour and 40 percent enriched all-purpose flour. The mill purchased a "ribbon mixer" for this project and can also add other ingredients to the mix, including additional gluten and other seasonings.

Dunn wrote a successful grant which is being used to research, develop and market the flour blend. They are also using the services of two area foods professionals - a dietitian and a food scientist - to help with market research and recipe testing.  

Currently, they are conducting a survey among school districts statewide to determine what they would like to have available in a mix to be used for school lunches and breakfasts. The school and the mill hope there will be sufficient interest among food service directors that they will request it from vendors and vendors would, in turn, carry a pallet of the new product on their distribution trucks. If there is sufficient interest and schools order the new product, it would create a small income stream for the culinary arts program, Taylor said.

The cooperation between Stafford County Flour Mills and the school is just the first step in a bigger vision, Taylor said. 

"Our vision includes the baking, moving on to vegetables utilizing the schools' greenhouse and ultimately 'suppers to go,' a service we tried offering a few years ago. We'll see how it goes," Taylor said.
One slice - er, step - at a time, it seems.

**If you're in the Stafford area, you have an opportunity to see the commercial kitchen, as well as other new features of the school, including a greenhouse and safe room. The school will host an open house from 6:30 to 8 PM, TONIGHT, Tuesday, April 8. Enter through the high school and check in at the Commons Area for tours.**  

If you're interested in learning more about the Stafford County Flour Mills, this is a great short video:

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