The Santa Rosa County School District and Sodexo are sponsoring a Chopped event featuring local leaders that is intended to highlight Manna Food Pantries, local farmers and Santa Rosa County students.
State representative Doug Broxson of District Three will participate in a cooking contest in the style of the TV show, Chopped. He will compete against the sheriff and superintendent of schools in Santa Rosa County.
“It’s a typical Chopped event,” Broxson said. “Thirty minutes before the competition, they’ll release the secret ingredients. Then the ones who have the most creative mixture, the most delicious, that the judges will eat will be the winner. And that will eventually be on the menu of some of the schools in Santa Rosa County.”
That evening, students from local culinary programs will participate in a dessert competition to win a scholarship. The event is intended to promote Florida produce in schools throughout the state.
“We’re getting ready with our advent of healthcare, whenever that comes to be, we’re gonna look to parents and their children to be healthy. School is the best place to learn how to eat and how to eat properly. We consider food to be a form of medicine. If we teach them to eat and eat properly, a well-balanced meal, then we’ve done our part in trying to shape our kids for the future,” said Broxson.
Local farmers will also contribute ingredients for the competition. For example, the Escambia County Blueberry Growers co-op will provide frozen blueberries for the event. Farmers will also bring produce to demonstrate what’s currently in season.
Christina Walmer works for the University of Florida Institute of Agriculture and Food Sciences. She is northwest district coordinator for Florida Farm to School program.
“We don’t have a lot of vegetable growers in the Florida Panhandle,” Walmer said. “We have a lot of cotton, we have a lot of soybeans. But when it comes to vegetable farmers, we don’t have a lot here. So what we’re trying to do is really locate those growers and give them a market in the school system.”
Florida Farm to School program seeks to connect local growers with school districts and figure out how they can meet the demand. Walmer says that several school districts want local produce.
“But, again, it’s a matter of availability, it’s a matter of, do these growers meet the food safety requirements they have to meet in order to provide for the schools? If they do have the product, how will they actually make any money on the product? Because it has to go through a distribution and it has to go through several other channels, so it’s really kinda figuring out the puzzle," said Walmer.
The event is also intended to highlight Manna Food Pantries. Leslie Bell is general manager at Sodexo School Services for Santa Rosa county.
“Obviously, this is a high-volume time of year for Manna Food Pantries,” Bell said. “It’s important for the community to get involved with this, especially in our area. The Manna Food Pantries in Milton has a lot of people that they serve. They don’t have enough participation, so we wanted to try to support them in that arena. And then we also wanted to be able to do something for Take Stock in Children, which is a scholarship fund for underprivileged and needy children within the school district.”
Chopped Santa Rosa County will take place at Milton High School from 6 to 8pm on Thursday, November 21. Attendees are requested to bring three non-perishable food items to the event.