What ever happened to learning to make applesauce in home economics?

Learning to prepare and cook applesauce was a staple lesson when a room of grown farmers, gardeners, business owners and elected officials were in school. But today’s children — including several of those community members’ own — are learning how to cook pasta and pancakes.

Food is everywhere, said Anne Palmer, program director for the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins. Food also comes in bigger portions, is more processed, and is less nutritious.

“All those extra calories have caught up with us,” Palmer said.

Palmer was invited to speak last week at Fox Haven Farm to a group of residents who are concerned about the future of food in Frederick County.

Despite coming from varied backgrounds, they share the goal of identifying the gaps in the local food system and crafting solutions that will meaningfully change the way people produce, purchase and consume food. One way that might be achieved is through the creation of a Food Policy Council.

At the Center for a Livable Future, Palmer monitors how local and regional groups shape the access to food in the areas where they work. There are about eight food policy councils in Maryland, including the Western Maryland Food Council, which covers Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties.

What she has found is that healthy food systems can be filtered down to five factors: vibrant farms, healthy people, strong communities, healthy ecosystems and thriving local economies.

Frederick County is already working to safeguard some of these, said Katie Albaugh, agriculture business development specialist in the county Office of Economic Development. Frederick County has helped put over 50,000 acres of farmland into permanent preservation and developed a free “homegrown here” sticker for businesses, farms and restaurants to advertise that they use locally grown food.

Still, Frederick County faces challenges when it comes to consuming the food it grows here, which became clear when the event’s host, JoAnn Coates-Hunter, opened the conversation to the crowd.

School is out during the peak growing season, which makes buying fresh, local produce difficult, said Stephen O’Brey, procurement coordinator for Frederick County Public Schools. The school system has a long-standing relationship with Catoctin Mountain Orchard and can get apples year-round, but the kids get tired of eating the same fruit, O’Brey said.

To change things up around the holidays, O’Brey purchased squash and sweet potatoes but watched almost all of it be thrown in the trash by students. Waste on that scale makes it hard to justify to his bosses the purchase of fresh produce in the future, he said.

Community gardens and food pantries have a similar problem, attendees said. Fresh produce has a shorter shelf life, and some of the people using the food assistance programs do not have the time or skills to prepare the raw food. For this reason, they prefer processed microwavable meals over fresh products.

“I was most surprised to find out the number of organizations that have people throwing away fresh food,” County Executive Jan Gardner said after the meeting.

Many raw foods can be washed and eaten whole, which presents an opportunity for the county to work on food education, she said.

Aroosa Khan, an administrator at the Islamic Society of Frederick, was similarly empowered by the idea of beginning the conversation to educate the children at the mosque on how to prepare whole foods. The mosque plans to start a community garden, but pairing it with cooking classes for the youth may make it even more valuable for their community, she said.

A separate challenge the county faces is “closing the loop” at the end of the food system by making sure scraps are composted instead of sent to a landfill.

Don Ludke, 71, attended Thursday’s meeting specifically to see how Frederick could improve its composting initiatives. Ludke is a master gardener and grows 85 percent of his own food. He has visited schools and given presentations on composting, but he has found that unless the principal is motivated to make changes, nothing gets done.

This is a problem, he said, because when a generation grows up learning a behavior, members of that generation will carry the behavior into adulthood and attempt to change the behavior of elders. Ludke said his grandchildren are constantly reminding him to fasten his seat belt, which didn’t exist when he learned to drive.

“Adults aren’t going to lead the change. Kids are,” Ludke said.

Thursday’s meeting was one of many that will help the community decide if it wants to create a formal food policy council.

The council can be structured in several ways, including as a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit or embedded in the county government. Gardner said she supported the idea in some ways, but believed that it would be best suited outside the government.

“This is brave work, and I think every single person in this room is critical,” Coates-Hunter said.

Follow Samantha Hogan on Twitter: @SAHogan.

Samantha Hogan is the state house, environment, agriculture and energy reporter for The Frederick News-Post.

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