During the month of February, students across Robbinsdale Area Schools taste-tested various wild rice dishes during their lunch periods. The goal: provide feedback to the district’s Nutrition Services Department in an effort to help them create new menu items that can be served at all schools.
Interestingly, after the tastings, the nutrition staff learned students at different grade levels had different preferences. High school students prefer their wild rice in a soup, for example, while middle school students requested it in a bowl paired with turkey.
The taste testings were part of the Minnesota Harvest of the Month Pilot Program, and Robbinsdale Area Schools was one of 14 districts statewide to participate. The program provides students in Robbinsdale Area Schools with access to fruits and vegetables, poultry, and grains that are grown and harvested locally.
“The purpose of the Minnesota Harvest of the Month Pilot Program is three-fold: to support developing local farmers in our state, to provide connections between cafeteria and community, and to build excitement surrounding seasonal school lunches,” said Kelsey Brommel, Nutrition Services Assistant Director for the district.
“Through this program, students have been exposed to locally grown and produced squash, apples, turkey, and now wild rice. We look forward to highlighting Minnesota greens and dairy later this spring,” she continued.
Districts in the program have the chance to feature a new food item each month, which they select from a local vendor. Robbinsdale Area Schools chose wild rice as their food item of choice in February and chose a Native American-owned company, Red Lake Nation Foods, as their wild rice supplier.
For the Nutrition Services Department, taste-testing wild rice dishes made sense. For many Minnesotans, wild rice is a favorite part of their diets. But what many people may not know is that the rice is actually grass. This chewy dark grain is frequently used in creamy soups, colorful pilafs, and hearty winter salads.
For the original residents of the state, the Ojibwe people, wild rice is considered a gift from the Creator. Archaeological records suggest that wild rice was harvested in Minnesota as long as 3,000 years ago. In Ojibwe wild rice is called “manoomin” and in Dakota it’s known as “psin” and is an important traditional food for many Indigenous people.
“Long ago our Anishinaabe ancestors received a message of survival. They were told to travel to where the food grows on water. Since then, Anishinaabe communities make their homesteads near areas where manoomin grows,” said Athena Cloud, American Indian Education Program Coordinator.
Located in northern Minnesota, the Red Lake Reservation is the only American Indian tribe in the United States that cultivates and harvests wild rice on local lands. Other communities within the reservation include Red Lake, Redby, Ponemah, and Little Rock.
In addition to wild rice, Red Lake Foods also offers wild fruit jellies, jams, and syrups, as well as batter mixes, popcorn, and herbal tea. Handcrafted gift items are also available.
All items are produced by American Indians.