California Thursdays: Collective Action Day

Written by: Sandy Curwood, RDN, MS, Director of Child Nutrition Services with Conejo Valley Unified School District 

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Director of Child Nutrition Services, Sandy Curwood, serves up a California Thursdays® recipe at the CA Farm to School Network Conference last spring.

California Thursdays® is what’s for lunch in school cafeterias across the golden state. On March 17th, 58 California school districts collectively took action showcasing the abundance of seasonal, regionally procured, delicious and nutritious foods in school cafeterias. Sourcing enough food to serve lunch to 1,500,000 students is no easy task on its own. Adding to the litany of requirements for serving National School Lunch Program meals, the challenge of sourcing seasonal, clean-label, grown and produced in California — and you could stump the most creative and progressive foodservice director.

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An example of California Thursdays® materials shared at cafeteria taste tests and along lunch lines in Conejo Valley Unified School District.

Despite the sheer volume of food grown and produced in California, the conventional food system is not designed to source-identify where food comes from and where it goes. Sourcing food specifically from California entails crafting the carefully written specification, locating a farmer or local producer, and establishing a distributor to deliver in the timeframe needed. It also requires the acumen of a logistics expert, the flexibility of an acrobat, and the creative genius of a mad scientist. Yet, that is exactly what is happening, over and over, district by district, across the state!

In contrast to conventional food systems, farm-to-school programs have long focused on seasonal, regional, and direct procurement strategies. California Thursdays® creates a framework for participating school districts to choreograph regional procurement to serve all California sourced foods across the state and enhance Farm-to-school strategies. Collective action inspires both collective consciousness and collective purchasing power.

Last week’s California Thursdays’® menus featured such proteins as: Mary’s chicken grilled, baked or rotisserie- bay-to-tray fish, and grass fed beef. Whole grains like: Sunwest brown rice and wheat tortillas. And a bounty of seasonal produce in farm-to-school salad bars: crispy romaine, crunchy carrots, broccoli salad with zesty avocado dressing, tangy tangerines and the sweetest strawberries.

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Conejo Valley Unified School District staff set up before the swarm of 800 students line up for their BBQ lunch!

To enhance the California Thursdays® dining experience many districts had an array of fun and educational activities. In Conejo Valley Unified School District, students enjoyed a county fair themed event with a BBQ chicken lunch. They swarmed the farm stand, played games of MyPlate tag, and explored how many miles their food travelled from farm to school. Pedaling as fast as they could on a blender bike, students helped with food prep, transforming berries and kale in to delicious smoothies. Ventura County Supervisor, Linda Parks was on hand to proclaim, Thursday March 17th as California Thursday, Collective Action Day. And we feel confident that across the state, California Thursdays® was collectively enjoyed!

For more info about California Thursdays®, visit the Center for Ecoliteracy’s website.

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