Behind the scenes at St. Croix Preparatory Academy, there is a culinary force that is cultivating a brighter and more connected community where food is a catalyst for positive change. Meet Marianne Thole, the heart and soul of St. Croix Prep Academy’s Food Service program. Marianne’s own culinary journey stands as a remarkable testament to the love she has for the Stillwater community and her deep-rooted passion for food. From her early days working in her husband’s family deli/market to the nearly two decades she spent working all aspects of a restaurant, Marianne pivoted her culinary career in 2013 when she joined the Nutrition Service team at Saint Croix Prep Academy. Her mission? To feed young minds and to instill a sense of belonging and responsibility to the community through every meal served.
In her role as the Food Service Director at St. Croix Prep Academy (SCPA), Marianne has overseen the school’s transition to a self-operated program. She has also spearheaded a remarkable change in the school’s approach to local and sustainable food sourcing. We first connected with Marianne in the fall of 2022, when she kicked off her farm-to-school initiative with the help of a Minnesota Department of Agriculture First Bite Grant, a program she highly recommends for any school looking to start sourcing locally for school meals for the first time.
Since Free School Meals for All took effect this school year, SCPA, like other schools in the state, has seen an impressive increase in student participation in school breakfast and lunch, surpassing the levels observed when meals were free during the pandemic. As parents begin to realize the benefit of no longer having to budget time or money for the cost of daily school lunches, school meal participation numbers continue to climb.
Remarkably, Marianne manages the influx in participation with a lean and dedicated staff that includes three full-time and two part-time team members. Her team’s commitment to local sourcing and good food doesn’t stop at fresh apples on the salad bar line. It permeates the school’s menus, from the locally sourced beef used in the burger bar, to the mouthwatering local Taco Tuesday offerings we enjoyed on our recent visit. She’s sourced peppers, melons, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and more over the course of the past year. She is also the first of our customers to set up recurring orders of microgreens from Richard Gordon, owner of LUV Microgreens, whose mission is to build and spread avenues of collective health, wealth, and freedom throughout Black communities in the Twin Cities Metro.
“SCPA’s commitment to local sourcing is nothing short of impressive. They are currently one of our top five K-12 partners in sales and are toe-to-toe with a level of local purchasing akin to that of Roseville and Robbinsdale Area Schools, each of which has 10+ schools in their districts. SCPA is a prime example of MDA farm to school grant funds being used effectively and we are honored to be a partner in their local sourcing initiatives.” says Micah Helle, The Good Acre’s Wholesale Partnership Manager.
Marianne is spearheading a culinary revolution at St. Croix Prep Academy. Her passion and dedication for good food are palpable the moment you step into her cafeteria. The Good Acre’s collaboration with Marianne extends beyond simply sourcing quality local foods – it’s about building stronger bonds, promoting sustainability, and contributing to the well-being of all those involved, from seed to tray. To Marianne Thole and St. Croix Prep Academy, we are honored to be a partner in this work with you!
If you are interested in sourcing local foods for your food service operation, contact our Wholesale Partnership Manager Micah Helle at [email protected].