Tasty, healthy (and a little spicy!): CR students love Black Bean Day

April 26, 2019

by Leigh Adcock, communications specialist, and Chelsea Krist, program coordinator

“Local black beans? 110 out of 10!”

That’s just one of many excited comments from students about a recent “Black Bean Day” in Cedar Rapids elementary schools. Three years in the making, the event was a true labor of love for many partners, encompassing recipe development, taste-testing, sourcing and distribution.

pot of black beans and rice.
Crock pot of the recipe, shared as a taste test.

All 21 of the district’s elementary schools served black beans and rice at lunch on Friday, April 5. Altogether, these 21 schools serve 5,900 meals a day (including breakfast).

Besides the food service component, the project incorporated black bean art in the cafeteria, a “cool beans” button and other promotional materials, and a series of cafeteria taste tests to create buzz leading up to the meal. K-12 kids even held “black bean blackouts” by wearing black to school, along with lots of faculty and staff.

Excited to try it

At Kenwood Elementary School, food service staff said they ordered 211 black bean and rice lunches on Black Bean Day. They normally order about 100 lunches in a given day — so students were clearly excited about the new item!

This was great news for district nutrition staff. Federal guidelines require them to offer students legumes at least once a week–and they haven’t been too popular in the past.

Thumbs up! Photo by Cedar Rapids CSD.

More student comments:

  1. Student: “I love today!” Staff: “This whole day?” Student: “No, lunch. I really LOVED my lunch today.”
  2. “I made black bean nacho bites! chip + cheese + black beans = yum”

Finding local black beans

Where did the school find local black beans to purchase? From North English farmers Jason and Hannah Grimm of Grimm Family Farm — one of Iowa’s few dry bean producers. As quoted in this article from the Gazette, Jason said: “We saw an opportunity to try out something on the menu and something in the kitchen.”

The district bought about 450 lbs. of Grimm Family Farm black turtle dry beans. That gives them enough to celebrate this farm to school event at all 21 elementary buildings on two different days: April 5 and coming up again on May 3.

Here’s a fun article from the New Pioneer Coop blog about Grimm Family Farm and its third-generation edible bean operation.

Food service staff got training in preparing the dry beans prior to Black Bean Day, including soaking them for 90 minutes, rinsing, and boiling them gently for 45-60 minutes. Then they steamed pans of rice, and poured in the cooked beans and prepared salsa. Reheat the mixture, and bon appetit! District nutrition manager Suzy Ketelsen says the event’s success means the recipe will stay on the meal rotation.

Lots of partners

Ann Torbert

Other hard-working partners in this project, along with Cedar Rapids Community School District, included FoodCorps Iowa and Linn County Extension and Outreach.

Ann Torbert, Linn County’s 4-H youth development specialist, helped create the first farm to school chapter in the county three years ago. She said the committee carefully selected a local food that would meet the need of Cedar Rapids Schools and work well with the constraints of each school with its own kitchen and limited storage.

She says, “Our successful experience with local sourcing took building trust in our partnership, allowing each partner to do what they do best – educating, sourcing and preparing.”

In the news

Black Bean Day got great media coverage, too! In addition to the Gazette article, take a look at these fun stories, photos and videos:

And enjoy these photos Chelsea took when she visited Garfield and Kenwood Elementary on Black Bean Day, along with Nathan Spalding of FoodCorps Iowa and Ann Torbert of Linn County Extension and Outeach.