The 2015 Harvest Challenge was held in the Westby Fieldhouse on Saturday, Nov. 8. In a very close competition Hillsboro High School aspiring chefs won the judge’s choice by a single vote taking home the traveling trophy, while Viroqua won for student choice and Kickapoo won the community choice vote. Approximately 215 people attended the event.
The Harvest Challenge is a student cooking competition sponsored by the Vernon County Farm to School Program. The high school cooking competition highlights the need for more nutritious and locally grown food in school lunches. The contest challenges each team of students to develop a creative, appetizing and visually appealing school lunch entree and side dish while incorporating locally grown foods. At the same time the entree and side dish must comply with national nutritional guidelines and meet a budget of $1 per person per serving (entree and side dish combined).
The schools districts of De Soto, Hillsboro, Kickapoo, La Farge, Viroqua and Westby were represented this year.
De Soto High School prepared pirate meatballs, with roasted tomato sauce; apple orchard cheddar biscuits; and sweet potato polenta. The student team consisted Anna Busteed, Brandon George, Darin George, Roxanna Haakenson, Jakob Hensley, Zach Kuchta, Grace Mitchell, Trisha Nickelotti, Ben Poulin and Emily Scoville. The staff mentors were Garrett Redman and Lucas Gilman. The chef mentor was Monique Hooker.
- JUDGE’S CHOICE
- : Hillsboro High School prepared Italian BBQ and Corn. The student team consisted of Jacob Benish, Drew Bisarek, Syler Fisher and Amy Salisbury. The staff mentors were Kristine Da Prato, Jessica Hubbard and Mollie Collins. The chef mentor was Emma Grinde.
- COMMUNITY CHOICE
- : Kickapoo High School prepared harvest chili and pumpkin muffins. The student team consisted of Giulia Cirrincione, Logan Cauffman, Madelyn Gallegos, Michael Goodwin, Jenna Hamilton, Erika Paonessa and Donna Jo Townsend. The staff mentors were Megan Schullo and Case Goodrich. The chef mentor was Danielle Sullivan.
- La Farge High School prepared deconstructed chicken fajita stuffed peppers and apple pie burritos. The student team consisted of Tristin Bautista, Lara Boudinot, Heather Dumond, Adam Hysel, Abbey Jacobs, Emily Jacobs, Page Johannes and Dale Sedgwich. The staff mentor was Annika Olson and the chef mentor was Brittani Williams.
- STUDENT CHOICE
- : Viroqua High School prepared Blackhawk breakfast taco, cinnimon sugar chips and spicy fruit salsa. The student team consisted of Ross DeWarrd, Brandon Huynh, Amber Keenan, Elliot Leum, Cameron Mastin, Effi Sutherland and Adam Wallace. The staff mentor was Robin Hosemann. The chef mentor Luke Zahm.
- Westby Area High School prepared a chicken chili, pumpkin cornbread and cranberry-apple salad. The student team consisted of Kin Hamilton, Roman Hebel, Savannah Kenyon, Morgan Sagler and Jarod Wilson. The staff mentor was Jennie Marx. The chef mentor was Geoff Lenser.
“This a fun and challenging event for our high school students that really enables them to appreciate the hard work that goes into school food programs,” Ashlee Gabrielson, the director of the Vernon County Farm to School program said.
The Harvest Challenge event serves as the primary fundraiser for the Vernon County Farm to School program. The event couldn’t be successful without the dedication of the high school teams, their mentors, volunteers, community support and the access to fresh, local foods.
Judges for this year event include Robert Knadle (Viroqua School District Administrator), Charles Norton (Westby Area School District Administrator), Kurt Bisarek (Hillsboro School District Administrator), Shawn Donovan (La Farge School District Administrator), Nora Roughen-Schmidt (Viroqua Chamber Main Street Project Exec. Director), Brad Robson (Chaseburg Farmers Union/Vernon County Dairy Promotion Committee), and Katie Wilson (USDA Deputy Undersecretary of Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services).
During the public participation portion of the Harvest Challenge, Wilson served as the guest speaker. She presented awards to Marilyn Volden of Viroqua and Monique Hooker of De Soto for their continue dedication and support of the Farm-to-School program.
The 2016 Harvest Challenge location and date has not been set.