Parents might have heard of lentil salads grown from school gardens and breakfast bars made from locally grown squash being served in school kitchens.

But now Lowell Elementary School is inviting parents – and anyone else in the community – to try some of these locally grown and produced foods at a unique fundraiser on Wednesday.

The “Try the Tray” is a family-friendly event that is an opportunity for parents to eat what their children eat during the school year. The event is also a fun way to promote the importance of local farmers and school gardens, and how both support nutrition education for students.

For $3, people can sample a “school lunch” for dinner, and learn how to become more involved with the gardens.

“I’ve talked to about 3,000 kids and have done lots of lessons, but never had a school event,” said Peter Kerns, Montana FoodCorps service member.

Though local food recipes and school gardens were a staple in the Missoula public school system for a while, only in the last year have things really revved up, Kerns said.

Because of Montana’s short growing season, local food can be hard to find. But new recipes containing beans and other crops that can be stored easily in the winter help bridge the gap between seasons.

“It’s a struggle between increasing local items in schools and getting kids to like them,” Kerns said.

Lentil salad isn’t a favorite among students, but pizza made with local Montana wheat flour and kale made a hit. On Wednesday, however, guests will enjoy a different fare with lasagna served with local greens, Montana pasta and oregano from the school garden, and a tour of the school garden.

Fun activities include a seed planting booth, a make-your-own smoothie stand and a mural where children can paint their dream Montana farm.

“I’m really excited to meet people passionate about eating healthy local meals,” Kerns said. “It really encourages them to look for healthy meals on menus.”

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