Park River, N.D., is in the heart of one of America’s top-potato producing areas. Shelly Poitra — the Park River School District’s head cook and lunch program leader — grew up in nearby Hoople, N.D. (nicknamed “Tater Town USA”) and is a big fan of spuds.
“Potatoes are our staple,” she says.
So it shouldn’t be surprising the Park River district has received the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association’s first donated salad bar, which serves pupils in kindergarten through grade six.
“The kids love it,” Poitra says. “They can see everything, they can reach everything. One of the kids said, ‘This is for little people like me.'”
Potatoes U.S.A. — the new name for what had been the U.S. Potato Board, which is in charge of promoting U.S. spud consumption — launched its “Potatoes Raise the Bar” school nutrition program last year. The effort includes installing 3,000 “potato-friendly” salad bars in schools across the country. Half are to be donated by growers, potato industry agribusinesses and others with a vested interest in the U.S. potato industry. Potatoes U.S.A. will match the donated salad bars.
The potato-friendly salad bar in Park River, installed earlier this year, was donated by the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association. It was matched by Potatoes U.S.A. with a donated salad bar to Standing Rock High School in Fort Yates, N.D., and then by a second, bonus donated salad bar to the Warren-Alvarado-Oslo School in Warren, Minn., according to information from the growers group.
The East Grand Forks, Minn.-based Northern Plains Potato Growers Association believes in the program, says Ted Kreis, the group’s marketing and communications director.
“We think it is a great program and will continue to support it as long as the U.S. Potato Board is actively involved,” he says. “Different schools have different needs: Shelly Poitra in Park River saw a great need for a shorter salad bar to make fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible to younger children.”
The Park River district already had a salad bar that worked well for older students, but that was too high for younger ones. A Northern Plains Potato Growers Association board member told Poitra about the “Potatoes Raise the Bar” program, and she decided to apply for a donated bar designed for young kids.
She describes the application as “just a standard grant application” that wasn’t difficult to complete.
The salad bar uses locally grown, red potatoes.
The Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota is the nation’s leading producer of red potatoes and the only region that produces in volume for the chip, fresh, seed and process markets.
Spuds are criticized in some quarters as unhealthy, a claim the potato industry strongly disputes.
Poitra says potatoes themselves are highly nutritious.
“It depends on what you put in it, what you fry it in,” she says. “That’s where potatoes get the bad rap.”
She thanks Potatoes U.S.A. and the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association for their involvement in the program, and encourages other schools to consider it.
“It’s an awesome program,” she says.
For more information for schools interested in a free salad bar, visit saladbars2schools.org/get-a-salad-bar.
For more information for businesses, organizations and individuals that want to donate a salad bar, visit uspotatoes.com/salad-bars or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.