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Federal rep lunches with local kids

Hydroponic produce grower Barry Thiele (right) speaks with Arlene Jones (center) and U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary Katie Wilson (left) about his concerns as a local grower at Washington Education Services Building Tuesday. (Brainerd Dispatch/Spenser Bickett)1 / 2
U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary Katie Wilson (left) speaks with Arlene Jones, Millie Morris and hydroponic produce grower Barry Thiele at Washington Education Services Building Tuesday. (Brainerd Dispatch/Spenser Bickett)2 / 2

Tuesday's lunch at Washington Educational Services Building featured a prominent guest rubbing elbows with area children as they tucked into their taco salads.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary Katie Wilson joined the kids for lunch Tuesday, as she was in the area to learn more about Brainerd Public Schools' food services successes.

Wilson, a Wisconsin resident, was appointed by President Barack Obama as the USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services on May 3. Director of food services for the district, Colette Pohlkamp, said Wilson was stopping by on her way up to Red Lake.

Wilson's visit gives the district a chance to showcase its successful participation in the USDA's Summer Food Service Program, which also makes use of local produce to provide healthy meals.

The farm-to-school program is a "wonderful program," Pohlkamp said, one that allows schools to provide their students with fresh produce. Members of Pequot Lakes Public Schools have asked for tips on implementing their own farm-to-school program, she said.

Barry Thiele, hydroponic producer from Staples, was on hand to provide Wilson with a container of his cherry tomatoes. Thiele has been supplying organic produce to the district for four years, and Tuesday's taco salad featured his romaine lettuce.

Thiele said it was great to get the chance to speak with Wilson about his produce, and some of the issues he runs into as a local producer, like finding reliable help for harvesting.

A closed loop, hydroponic system is more sustainable in the long run, Thiele said, and the movement towards more sustainable food production "isn't going to be easy."

"We usually only make changes if there's a crisis," Thiele said. "And we can't afford a crisis for food."

SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or Follow on Twitter at

Spenser Bickett

Spenser Bickett covers the Brainerd City Council and education. A native of the Twin Cities, Bickett attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he majored in journalism with a minor in political science. After graduation, he worked for the International Falls Journal as a staff writer before coming to Brainerd.

(218) 855-5859