Farm to School Stories

Sometimes, the best way to learn about how to make something work is to learn the ins and outs of how others have done it. Below are examples of Farm to School programs telling their stories.

The stories below were collected for a project carried out from June 2010-February 2011. Child Nutrition Services Directors from eleven California School Districts participated in an in-depth survey and helped facilitate video documentation of their school food and farm to school programs. You can download the survey tool used for the study here.

These districts varied in their offerings of farm to school type programming, but they all demonstrated innovative and inspiring means of providing fresh fruits and vegetables to their students.

For each district find a summary of the survey and a video documenting their programs.

Want to tell your farm to school story? Contact us!

Oakland Unified School District

Stay tuned for more information about an upcoming webinar and report about Oakland Unified School District.

There are close to 60 school gardens operating in Oakland Unified School District. View a map of 43 of them.

OUSD serves approximately 37,000 students at 65 elementary schools, 17 middle schools, four special programs, 14 high schools, and 11 alternative education schools. OUSD manages 91 kitchens and offers lunch at all schools, breakfast at 94 schools, and after school snack at 75 schools. At these schools approximately 6,500 breakfasts, 27,000 lunches, and 10,000 snacks are served each day.

68% of the district’s student population is eligible for free or reduced priced meals and 87 school sites have 50% of more of their students eligible for free or reduced price meals. Ten elementary schools are piloting “Cooking Kitchen” menus, where more scratch cooking is taking place.

Multiple community partners are working to provide nutrition education and increase availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. Farmers markets at 22 school sites, a district wide school garden program, Harvest of the Month, and a “Oakland Eats Garden Fresh” program are a few examples of these efforts.

The following is a sampling of the steps OUSD has taken to increase wellness at their school sites:

  • Offer fresh fruit or vegetable at every breakfast and lunch
  • Added meatless Monday to diversify the menu
  • Chocolate milk is only served once a week
  • Stopped serving whole fat cheeses
  • Replaced all Gatorades and fruit drinks with 100% fruit juices. Juice is only offered three days a week in elementary sites
  • Enlist parent volunteers to assist the preparation of fresh fruits and vegetables and scratch cooking

OUSD Nutrition Services has one of the most informative and updated School Nutrition Services websites around. Check it out here or go straight to the informative pages below:

General Information

Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) serves approximately 37,000 students at 65 elementary schools, 17 middle schools, four special programs, 14 high schools, and 11 alternative education schools. Oakland Unified School District Nutrition Services (OUSDNS) provides meal service through the National School Lunch Program for 107 K-12 schools. OUSDNS offers lunch at all schools, breakfast at 94 schools, and after school snack at 75 schools. At these schools approximately 6,500 breakfasts, 27,000 lunches, and 10,000 snacks are served each day. Four elementary schools are recipients of the Fresh Fruits and Vegetable Program which provides free fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to students.

Nutrition Services has approximately 300 employees providing services to the students and staff at 91 cafeterias (some cafeterias can provide service to two to four schools). Sixty-eight percent of the district’s student population is eligible for free or reduced priced meals and 87 school sites have 50% of more of their students eligible for free or reduced priced meals. OUSDNS annual budget is close to 15 million. OUSDNS is self supporting, there are no contributions from the district’s general fund. Under the direction of Nutrition Services Director Jennifer LeBarre OUSDNS strives to create a world class nutrition services program that is recognized in the State of California.

Elementary school lunch costs $2.25 each and middle and high schools are at a cost of $3.00 each.

In addition to serving school breakfast, lunch, and snacks OUSDNS runs the following programs:

  • catering
  • 36 early childhood education centers
  • adult feeding programs,
  • summer feeding
  • service to charter schools

Healthy Foods – Menu Planning and Salad Bars

Menu planning is based on the following cycles: secondary schools follow weekly cycles, elementary follows a three week cycle, and breakfast is on a two week cycle. Meal planning is based on traditional food based planning rather than a nutrient based model and offer vs. serve is utilized. Ten elementary schools are piloting a “Cooking Kitchen” menu which offers more “in house” prepared items.

Salad bars operate in 56 schools and pre-packed salads are offered in other sites. Salads are prepared with four-six vegetables and four-six fruits offered. Half or more of these fruits and vegetables are fresh rather than canned. Additionally, fresh fruits and vegetables are offered a la carte in all grades in the lunch line and during snack times.

OUSDNS serves a model to other districts the following are just a few of the steps they have taken to enhance their school food program:

  • Removed deep fat fryers from all schools
  • Added meatless Monday to diversify the menu
  • Only non-fat and 1% (rBST hormone-free) milks are available
  • Chocolate milk is only served once a week
  • Stopped serving whole fat cheeses
  • Offer free breakfast at several sites
  • Replaced all Gatorades and fruit drinks with 100% fruit juices. Juice is only offered three days a week in elementary sites
  • Implemented Free Bottled Water Program in all staffed high schools so that water bottles were given out with all reimbursable meals
  • Cut back on the amount of sugar in cereals to no more than six grams of sugar per serving.
  • Worked with students to developed a High School menu that is 80% scratch cooking
  • Changed a la carte offerings, taking away those entrees and sides with high calorie, fat, and saturated fat content.
  • Eliminated 90% of white breads. Introduced more whole grain items
  • Offer fresh fruit or vegetable at every breakfast and lunch
  • Enlist parent volunteers to assist the preparation of fresh fruits and vegetables and scratch cooking

Sourcing and Buying Produce

Over 90% of fresh produce is purchased through the distributor Fresh Point. The remaining produce is purchased directly from growers, collaboratives, or through a broadliner.

OUSDNS has defined a preferred local buying region as within the nine bay area counties, a secondary preference is defined by a region from Fresno to Northern California, and thirdly California as a whole is defined. As Fresh Point continues to label their source of produce OUSDNS is able to better understand where the produce they source comes from.

An exciting collaboration with the East Bay Asian Youth Center called Oakland Fresh has brought 12, once a week farmers markets on to school sites. This program works with eight local farmers and Jennifer sees this as a means to source more from local growers.

Food Preparation and Serving

There are 91 kitchen facilities in OUSD and only 25 of these are fully functional. About 73% of school food is prepared through commissary systems – centrally prepared chilled and distributed to satellite kitchen sites for heating and serving. There are two central kitchens which prepare 73% of OUSD food. When produce is cooked stir frying and steaming are the most popular methods of preparation.

Jennifer estimates that 100% of fresh fruit is served raw and of that 75% of fresh fruit is served whole. 80% of fresh vegetables are served raw versus cooked and rarely served uncut.

Jennifer states that about 80% of produce production is done at one of three central kitchens while the other 20% is done in site kitchens. There is a lack of equipment for produce preparation and Jennifer has Buffalo Choppers (rotating bowl chopper) on the top of her produce preparation wish list. Additionally more cold storage and prep surfaces are needed to adequately prepare fresh fruits and vegetables. Jennifer states that thirty more salad bars are needed to assist in the serving of more produce at her schools.

Farm to School, Promotion, and Nutrition Education

With a district as large as OUSD, collaboration is essential to implement farm to school and nutrition education. Below is a summary of some of the more prominent partners supporting school wellness:

Alameda County Public Health Department Nutrition Services provides nutrition education in 36 school sites which includes Harvest of the Month along with themed interventions such as The Importance of Breakfast, and Soda Free Summer. There are 30 cooking carts that are used for nutrition promotion.

Oakland Eats Garden Fresh is joint venture of OUSDNS and Alameda County Public Health Department Nutrition Services which links the cafeteria to the classroom. Classroom programs on seasonality are reinforced with local produce served in the cafeterias. Students also receive materials on reasons to by local and a list of farmers markets. The Oakland Eats Garden Fresh logo is branded on menus and other promotional materials.

OUSDNS and collaborators participate in the HEAC (Healthy Eating Active Communities) project which measures the success of meal program improvements coupled with nutrition and physical education.

The Oakland School Food Alliance is a parent-led advocacy group committed to healthful school food that works to direct policy that supports healthy school food change.

As means to connect with local farmers, provide access to fresh produce to the Oakland community, and as a potential local produce source OUSDNS has partnered with the East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC) to create the Oakland Fresh School Produce Markets. These school based farmers markets are ran weekly by parent volunteers, and in addition to bringing farm fresh produce and goods to the city, they offer nutrition education and cooking demonstrations. Currently twelve schools host weekly farmers markets and there are plans to add an additional thirteen schools.

OUSD has a teacher on special assignment to support school gardens. There is a school garden council and about 60 school gardens in the district. The school garden support professional assists teachers to use gardens as nutrition education instructional tools and serves as a liaison among school administrators, facilities staff, and educators.

OUSDNS has also contracted with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers to help organize stakeholders and create a plan for farm to school programming. Additionally OUSDNS is a part of School Food Focus which is a national organization working towards improving school food in larger school districts, and currently OUSDNS is working with researchers at UC Davis to analyze and create sustainable produce procurement models

OUSDNS has well developed and maintained website that is used for communications of their stellar work in school nutrition. Additionally there is an informative monthly newsletter produced by OUSDNS.

Summary

Under the direction of Nutrition Services Director Jennifer LeBarre OUSDNS strives to create a world class nutrition services program that is recognized in the State of California.

Though the large size of the district, minimal kitchen infrastructure, and tight budgets provide challenges to OUSDNS, the district has taken great strides to change school food. Jennifer recognizes the importance of Farm to School for OUSD. In her words, “Increasing the availability and consumption of fresh produce is one of OUSD’s top priorities. Purchasing fresh fruit and vegetables locally makes sense. It will have a tremendous impact on the nutritional quality of the produce while keeping our money local and stimulating our economy.”

Jennifer mentioned that she wants every meal she serves to be something that she would feel good to serve her own child.

A committed Nutrition Services Department, strong community collaborators, and a supportive school administration all serve to create a bright outlook for the goal of being an exemplary school food service program.

Escondido Union High School District

EUHSD is comprised of four high schools – 3 traditional high schools and one continuation school.  8,500 students are enrolled, with 50.1% of the student population eligible for free or reduced priced lunch. Approximately 358,000 breakfasts and 543,000 lunches are served annually. 50.1% of the student population is eligible for free or reduced priced lunch.

The district is helping to create a food hub in San Diego County to facilitate the procurement of locally grown fruits and vegetables for institutional buyers.

Here is Escondido’s story from former teacher and passionate Farm to School advocate, Diana Bergman:

Project Overview

Farm to School Programs have flourished through many parts of California, and San Diego County will be next to come onto the scene if Pamela Lambert of Escondido Union High School District has anything to say about it. Ms. Lambert is one of many school Food Service Directors in the county who are encouraging local produce vendors, nonprofit organizations, and farmers to provide locally grown fruit and vegetables in schools.  The development of these partnerships is necessary so that institutional food buyers will even have the option to source locally, effectively reestablishing intra-county links between growers and consumers which were broken decades ago.

Changes made throughout EUHSD’s food service have shown that high school students will eat healthier food and the district can make a profit doing it.  Junk food options have been eliminated from school menus while healthy options are being promoted.  Locally grown products are featured in menu items as a marketing strategy. Financial solvency and a district vision toward wellness have created a base upon which additional Farm to School components can be built in the near future.

General Information

EUHSD Student Nutrition Services serves five schools – 3 traditional high schools, one independent study and one continuation school.  It has a total budget of 2.3 million dollars, which includes $1.2 million in food costs and nearly $1 million for labor. Fresh fruits and vegetables account for 9.4% of the total food budget, or approximately $110,000. A Registered Dietician, Ms. Lambert came to head the district in 2005.  Before Lambert arrived, EUHSD Nutrition Services was losing money and needed regular support from the district’s general fund.  Since reforming the department to focus on greater customer service and meals made from “speed scratch”, lunch participation has increased by 300% and the department is making a profit. The revenue is being used to fund reforms in the nutrition services program including upgrading equipment to support more scratch cooking, promoting wellness, and purchasing locally grown and/or organic produce.

In 2006 Lambert organized and educated the members of their district wellness committee and guided the team to developing a policy that eliminates high fructose corn syrup and other food additives, and promotes whole grains and locally sourced products.  She also now regularly trains her food service staff and promotes wellness at events for parents and students at each of her district’s schools.

Lambert has strived over the past four years to reverse the state of the department that she inherited in 2005. Now that she has done so, she is actively involved in helping to establish necessary infrastructure for Farm to School style programs in San Diego County.

General Food Service Operation

8,500 students are enrolled in Escondido Union High School District, and 50.1% of them are eligible for free or reduced priced lunch. 4 out of 5 of her schools have greater that 50% enrollment in free/reduced price lunch.  Last year 358,000 breakfasts and 543,000 lunches were served.  A morning nutrition break greatly facilitates the number of school breakfasts served.  The district charges $0.40 for reduced price lunches and $3.00 for a full priced lunch.  In addition to revenue from traditional school breakfast and lunch, the department also caters staff events, provides food for child care programs, and operates a summer feeding program that last year served over 51,000 meals.

Each serving site does its own meal preparation and ordering.  Food is served through windows and seating is outdoors.  Lambert is not enamored by what she herself called an unattractive and unfriendly serving environment at some of the district’s older high schools, and is looking forward to the construction of a fourth high school where she was directly involved in the design of the actual cafeteria.

All staff besides Lambert  and her assistant are part-time.  They are the two sole staff at the district level.  Each traditional high school site has one 7-hour manager, one 6-hour assistant manager, and eleven or twelve 3-hour kitchen prep and serving staff.

Looking to future educational opportunities, Lambert has communicated with health instructors at each site, an ag teacher at San Pasqual High School who has a school garden, and many community partners.

Menu Planning

Menu planning is done one month in advance, on a four week cycle. The incorporation of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables may affect what items make it on the final menu.  In addition, during summer months there are more cold sandwiches and salads on the menu simply because it is more pleasant to eat them in the hot weather.  Ms. Lambert employs nutrient standard menu planning and has analyzed all recipes that are designed and used within the district using the NutriKids software system.  “Offer vs. Serve” is practiced in order to reduce food waste. As much as possible through tiny windows, however, the offering is done using attractive and accessible baskets stationed near the windows so that it is easy for students to make their choices.

There are no salad bars in the district because of current lack of infrastructure.  Prepackaged salads using a spring mix/romaine blend are made and offered daily and displayed in a clear container with Newman’s Own Salad Dressing.  In addition to diced chicken or ham, various vegetables toppings are added to the salad to add variety.  This may include cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, shredded carrots, etc.  Whole fruit is offered daily at breakfast and lunch – this includes apples, bananas, “carroteenies”, and grapes. These products are available year round and are not locally grown.  Some locally grown are also added to the options depending on seasonal availability.  For example, Lambert spotlighted oranges from local grower Noel Stehly in November.  Plums made a debut earlier in the year.  Broccoli is currently being grown for the district by Tierra Miguel Farm and Suzie’s Farm and will be on menus in March.

Themed menus are not a regular practice, but do appear for major holidays.  Ethnic flavors are also common and well received – the majority of students in the district are of Latino heritage.  Latino, Asian and Italian-inspired menus commonly appear.

Sourcing and/or Buying Practices

In 2009-2010, EUHSD’s produce vendor was Worldwide Produce. Worldwide Produce has a “locally grown” product list but Lambert found that the company did not always source from the promised growers.  For the 2010-2011 school year, EUHSD is getting its produce from M&H Food Source in the hopes that they can provide a greater proportion of genuinely San Diego Grown fruits and vegetables.  As it stands, a certain degree of trust is extended by the district that the vendor will provide what they claim they will provide.  When M&H was directly contacted regarding their local sourcing practices, their representative explained that many produce items are simply no longer available from San Diego County and must come from other states or countries to meet year round demand.  He expressed flexibility in working with the district to satisfy any of their ordering requirements, but said that the best way to mandate local sourcing or a certain percentage thereof is to write it into their vendor contracts.

To facilitate the creation of a more reliable sourcing option, Ms. Lambert is consulting on the creation of a new Market Hub which will specifically connect San Diego fruit and vegetable growers with institutional buyers. This in effect will recreate the local distribution chain that was broken decades ago when it became more profitable for farmers to send everything to the Los Angeles Wholesale Terminal Market than to sell it directly in San Diego County.  EUHSD and other school districts recently agreed in advance to purchase broccoli from two local growers as part of a pilot project with the San Diego Growers’ Project. The plants are being grown specifically to meet the order need from the collaborating districts.

EUHSD’s USDA Entitlement allocation is divided in the following manner:

  • Grains/pasta – 25%
  • Beans/legumes – 25%
  • Produce (through DoD Fresh Program) – 15%
  • Other – 35%

Connection with Local or Regional Foods

When making food purchases for her district, Ms. Lambert specifies her purchasing preferences  into three tiers – within 25 miles, within 100 miles, and California-grown.  Local farmers that she has directly procured from include Tierra Miguel Farm, Stehly Orchards, and Suzie’s Farm. What is sourced locally depends on what is available that season.  Lambert will buy directly from farmers or farmers markets, or get what she needs through her vendor, M and H Food Source. Last year her vendor told her that it sourced locally. She tracked the delivery truck one morning and found it was  picking up products from the LA produce market, at which point she confronted the vendor and switched to a new company.  She plans to source from the Growers’ Project food hub once it is fully operational, which should be some time during the 2010-2011 school year.  Presently, the Growers’ Project is testing markets and distribution through small pilot projects.  They are also currently recruiting farmers and assessing large scale feasibility.

Locally grown fruits that EUHSD has purchased include apples, cantaloupes, grapes, honeydew, oranges, pears, and watermelon.  Vegetables include broccoli, green and red cabbages, celery, cucumbers, chili peppers, and tomatoes.

In addition, until EUHSD has the capacity to bake bread in-house, whole grain rolls for sandwiches are procured from a local bakery in Escondido.  Ms. Lambert also indicated desire to procure local meat and dairy products if they were available.

Based on answers provided in the survey, willingness and convenience are not barriers to EUHSD developing a Farm to School Program.  Logistical, financial, promotional, and staff issues are barriers, but can and are slowly being addressed. It would facilitate more purchasing of local foods if any of the measures identified in the survey would be instituted such as a seasonality list, list of local farmers willing to sell to schools, development of local food hub, training materials, etc.

Production and Serving

Each of EUHSD’s four sites has its own kitchen and prepares meals for its own staff and students, primarily in a conventional heat and serve fashion (80%). About 20% of meals are purchased preassembled.  Foods are prepared from scratch or “speed scratch”, with speed scratch being understood to mean some pieces of the meals are purchased pre-made such as dry pastas, or bread rolls.

Fruits and vegetables may be stir-fried (broccoli, carrots, cabbage), baked, or steamed (corn, broccoli, carrots, green beans) depending on the recipe.  Each site is responsible for its own fruit and vegetable preparation. Fruit is more often sold whole (apples, bananas, oranges) as snack items, and it is consequently almost always served raw.  Vegetables are more often served cut up and can be raw or cooked. Fruits and vegetables are received at a central kitchen and kept in cold storage. Ms. Lambert noted that the storage unit is too small though. She also expressed the need for equipment for fruit and vegetable preparation and storage, including steam ovens, gas stoves, prep tables, and coolers. The site kitchens are also very small and would benefit from more prep space for washing, chopping, etc.

During lunch and a short nutrition break, meals may be served via one of four methods – window service, boxed lunches, food carts, and tray service. Some meals are served in the classroom (example?). Window service is the primary serving method and none of the sites currently have an indoor cafeteria. Students eat outside sitting at picnic tables or on low walls, lawn or pavement throughout the campus.  A new campus has been designed with input by Ms. Lambert and will include an indoor cafeteria with attention to customer appeal. At the existing sites, however, any retrofit to include more space would allow for better presentation of fruits and vegetables as well as easier customer access.

Food that can still be consumed after the day’s meals are served is sent to local food banks and charities. That which cannot be donated is disposed of in the garbage or down a disposal.

Certain fresh fruit items are available to students and staff year round – these are apples, cantaloupes, honeydew, watermelon and other melons, grapes, and mandarin oranges. The same vegetables are also procured each month to be incorporated into prepared salads (carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes), while others regularly make their way into meals (broccoli, green and red cabbage, celery, corn, onions).

Promotion and Marketing

Every student in the district takes mandatory health class where produce is promoted during discussions of nutrition, and the district’s CalSafe pregnant teen program also encouraged healthy eating and educated young mothers about the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Nutrition Services will begin marketing their line of salads under their own brand “Fresh4U” in the coming months.  Targeted messages have not been developed for a Farm to School Program, but EUHSD recently partnered with Tierra Miguel Farm and the San Diego Growers’ Project (www.tierramiguelfarm.org) and are planning marketing strategies.  Currently, promotions are more spontaneous and occur as needed through school menus, school and community newsletters, and web based communications. Locally grown items receive special attention through these venues.

Student Preferences

EUHSD staff conduct student preference surveys and taste tests before serving new produce items. These tests are done with the general population as opposed to a formal Student Nutrition Advisory Council (has not been formed).  Students were found to prefer fresh fruit and vegetables over frozen or canned produce.

According to Ms. Lambert, the addition of locally grown fruit and vegetables has led to an increase in consumption.

Farm to School

EUHSD has been an early partner in the formation of the San Diego Growers’ Project, a local food hub that is being developed by the Tierra Miguel Foundation with funding from the California Endowment and the federal Center for Disease Control.  Ms. Lambert offered her perspective as a school district representative and helped to recruit and educate other districts into the project, which will serve institutional buyers such as school districts.  This is perhaps the most significant outside partnership for EUHSD Nutrition Services and promise to have the greatest future impact on the district’s F2S program.  Lambert also sits on the newly formed San Diego Farm to School Taskforce.

Ms. Lambert feels that Farm to School practices contribute most to creating a healthy school environment by providing students with a tangible connection to their food (please elaborate).

Currently, EUHSD’s Farm to School program consists of purchasing food from local or regional farms to be served in the schools, and providing some in-class and whole-school nutrition education events.  Ms. Lambert’s work initially came to our attention when she attended the 2009-2010 FFVCHSE trainings with her kitchen managers.  She and her staff have also attended Farm to School workshops at the annual CSNA conference, and informational sessions provided as a part of Tierra Miguel’s food hub development. Ms. Lambert in turn passes the information to her remaining staff during monthly staff trainings.

The last three years have seen significant improvements in wellness activities and food service in the district, with primary work being in developing and aligning the vision of those working on wellness in the district. On site district partners are emerging as positive change is noticed within Nutrition Services. In the next few years it is hoped that such partners will be able to put the new district vision into greater action. In the works are a Culinary Arts program, and a collaboration with an ag teacher at San Pasqual High School to incorporate products from their garden into meal service promotions.

Last year Ms. Lambert organized the school community and outside agencies to create a highly successful Health and Wellness Fair at Orange Glen High School, centered on an edgy avant-garde “Circus” theme. Three rings in the gym featured movement activities presented by the school dance team, band, and others.  Around the perimeter of the gym were booths from local agencies and nonprofits including neighborhood clinics, the local hospital (Palomar Pomerado hospital), WIC, County Health Department, County Parks and Rec Department, and the California Center for the Arts Escondido (local performing arts center).  A representative from the Escondido Farmers Market attended and provided a lesson on making health salsa, and offered samples of local apples from Julian, CA.  Students made and passed out bags of air popped popcorn.  Ms. Lambert largely organized the fair herself.  She hopes that more such events can be replicated at the other high schools in the future.

Now that the Nutrition Services Department is fiscally solvent, Ms. Lambert’s next goals include convincing the district’s Board of Education to approve more staff for the department so nutrition education programs and Farm to School activities can be properly supported. Up to this point, any Farm to school work has been taken on as part of Ms. Lambert’s regular job, or additions to her work load.  Department profits have been used to purchase local produce. Ms. Lambert has found that her options for grant funding are reduced because hers is a secondary school, and some funders only want to support elementary schools. She has however applied for (please list which grant(s) you have applied for).

Nutrition and Food Education are gradually being incorporated into EUHSD’s F2S program. Currently nutrition education is part of the curriculum in the mandatory health education classes that all students take. PE classes also offer some nutrition education.  Local representatives from Palomar Pomerado Hospital provide information in some classes. “Harvest of the Month” is used in promotions around food service areas at each site. Promotions are evident on their website and through school announcements, newsletters, and school lunch menus.

Ms. Lambert pinpointed the following challenges to implementing her district’s F2S program: Funding, time, awareness, and making it a priority for all involved.  She has attempted to overcome these barriers by aggressively educating her staff through staff development opportunities, and providing in-services for the district board of education, administrators, and community members.  The district is still far from having a sustainable and well established F2S program, but Nutrition Services is guided by a strongly motivated leader who welcomes and seeks advice from other districts, technical assistance in marketing and evaluation, and would like to attend more trainings on Farm to School Programs.

Despite this early stage in EUHSD’s F2S program development, Ms. Lambert can still look back and identify some key initial steps. The first step she undertook was to facilitate and create a district wide vision that supported Farm to School and simply healthier eating.  This vision took the form of a strong Wellness Policy. This required pulling together resources to educate the committee about food service, nutrition, and other successful department models.  The next step was to build staff cohesion and create a work environment that encourages innovative ideas and cross departmental communication.  Presently, Ms. Lambert and local Farm to School advocates are engaged in the next step which is identifying businesses, farmers, district personnel, and community partners who can develop the infrastructure for local sourcing of fruit and vegetables.  That infrastructure includes the San Diego Growers’ Project food hub which should be operational sometime in the 2010-2011 school year.

Overall summary of the district

Escondido Union High School District is poised to become a model for procurement of locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables, once delivery infrastructure has been established within San Diego County.  Food Service Director Pamela Lambert is working hard to make this a reality as a consultant on the San Diego Growers’ Project, a budding local food hub.  Ms. Lambert has quickly led this small high school district’s food service department into profitability with a simple focus on healthy food – the students have taken note and meal participation has soared.   She has educated and empowered school site staff to buy into the message of school wellness and now hopes to bring in more paid staff to help sustain healthy changes in her school district and others.

Novato Unified School District

NUSD is creating “Total School Wellness Environment” in its fourteen K-12 schools that serve 7,800 students. About 4,500 breakfast and lunch meals are served each day.

Highlights from NUSD’s Total Wellness Environment Strategy include:

  • An on-farm gleaning project helps to make the farm to fork connection for students while increasing local and organic produce offerings.
  • NUSD has removed the vending machines from all schools and chocolate milk from K-8 schools.
  • Salad and vegetarian options are offered at all school sites. Vegan options are noted on their menus.
  • Community partners and portable nutrition education kits help to promote wellness education.
  • School garden programs are active in many of NUSD schools.
  • Breakfast served during class time in all elementary schools bolsters breakfast participation.

Here is Novato’s Farm to School story, which details it’s Total Wellness Environment Strategy in greater depth:

General Information Food Service Operation

Located in Northern Marin County, the city of Novato has a population of 52,000. The Novato Unified School District (NUSD) Food and Nutrition Services (FANS) serves 4,500 breakfast and lunch meals per day. There are 14 K-12 schools that serve close to 7,800 students in 8 elementary schools, three middle schools, and three high schools. 31% of the students in the district are eligible for free or reduced price lunch and four schools have a population where 50% or more of the student population is eligible for free or reduced priced meals.

Under the direction of Food and Nutrition Services director Miguel Villareal, NUSD is an innovator in Farm to School programming. In addition to running an innovative food service department, Miguel also serves on the California School Nutrition Association.

In the 2009-2010 academic year daily reimbursable meals served were as follows: breakfast – 1822, lunch – 2366, and snacks – 1588. The annual budget is $2,135,000. $670,000 is spent on food and of that amount about %20 of that is spent on fresh fruits and vegetables. NUSD FANS staff is comprised of five full time managers, 13 partime managers, and 18 parttime kitchen prep/serving staff. Nutrition education and the HOTM program are implemented in the district but there is no dedicated staff for these efforts. There are volunteers and students that help provide these services.

FANS has achieved great strides to implement wellness. These include:

  • Serving breakfast in all elementary schools during class, once implemented breakfast participation went from about 50 servings per day to about 1,000
  • Serving lunch after lunchtime recess playtime
  • No vending machines in any school sites
  • School gardens in 13 of 14 schools
  • Local/organic produce offered at all school sites
  • No chocolate milk in K-8 school sites, nor juice nor sodas
  • Salad entrée and vegetarian entrée choices at all school sites
  • Fresh fruit offered daily
  • Zero-trans fat in all foods offered
  • Nutrition education offered by partner organizations using Portable Wellness Classroom Kitchen Kits (elementary schools only)
  • School wellness events and on farm gleaning program.

Menu Planning and Salad Bars

FANS has a three week cycle menu that allows for flexibility on calories, nutrients, and produce availability/specials. Salad bars are in a total of four of the 14 schools and offer fresh produce.  Additionally prepackaged salads are prepped daily in the central kitchen and made available at all 14 k-12 schools. A la carte fruit and vegetable items are available in the middle and high schools. There are plans to have salad bars in all schools but they are currently limited by funding/facilities.

Sourcing/Buying Practices

Approximately 85% of fresh fruit and vegetables are purchased through Marin Produce Distributor, 10% from Marin Organic (an organic farming marketing and outreach organization), and 5% from a broadline distributor. Entitlement funds are used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, when available via direct shipment from the state warehouse. Most (85%) of FANS entitlement is used for the purchase of meat and poultry products.

One fresh produce source is quite innovative and unique. Through a partnership with Marin Organics FANS participates in a local farm gleaning program where students and parents glean local farms. This educational endeavor has provided up to 25% of FANS weekly produce in the fall.

Connections with Local and Regional Foods

FANS has a good relationship with their Marin Produce, Marin Organics, and is situated near agricultural production areas.  These factors allow for FANS to define local as products purchased within 20 mile and regional within 250 miles. Marin Produce works to communicate the source of produce purchased. FANS has interest in serving local and regional produce but cost, staff to handle produce, and lack of facilities are barriers. Miguel notes that reimbursement rates should be raised to significantly help cover the costs of local produce.

In addition to Marin Produce and Marin Organics, FANS purchases from these local food providers: Clover Stornetta (Milk), Redwood Bagels, High Tech Burritos, Clif Bars, Strauss Dairy (yogurt).

Production and Serving

FANS has many facility limitations for the production and serving of fruits and vegetables. Visiting the central kitchen it is obvious that the site was repurposed as a kitchen and not originally designed to be a  kitchen facility. Adequate refrigeration is lacking at each school site and the central kitchen.  Additionally most schools do not have serving lines or salad bars. Miguel estimates the following needs: 200-300 sq ft of serving lines – $75,000, walk-in cooler – $35,000, refrigeration – $100,000, slicers – $4,000, tables and sinks – $85,000.

The central kitchen receives all of the produce and stores it in the walk-in or dry storage. The majority of food ingredients are sent to school sites and assembled at the sites. Exceptions include: prepackaged salads and rice bowls which are fully prepared at the central kitchen and burritos which come from a local vendor. 20% of fresh fruit and vegetables are processed at the central kitchen.

90% of fresh fruits are served whole. 10% of vegetables are served whole, the rest are cut. 100% of fresh fruits are served raw and 97% of fresh vegetables are served raw. Baking is the main means of cooking vegetables (carrots, potatoes, celery).

Promotion and Marketing

FANS promotes Harvest of the Month by communicating with principals, teachers, and the community. There is no dedicated staff to provide nutrition education in the district although Miguel takes on that role from time to time and has arranged to have interns support the effort.  Additionally FANS has worked with a Student Nutrition Advisory Council, but due budget cuts and district changes this council’s efforts have diminished. There are two non-profit organizations, Youth Leadership Institute and Teens Turning Green, that provide outreach to high school youth.

It is evident that FANS is focused on nutrition and increased consumption of local fresh fruits and vegetables. The message is communicated via the web, on menus, via newsletters, local media and school community events. Miguel has also served free lunch in staff lounges as a means to promote the gleaning program, HOTM, and nutrition education resource lending kits.

Student Preferences

As stated in the survey NUSD students prefer fruits and vegetables in the following order: 1) fresh, 2) frozen, 3) canned. When serving local foods FANS has observed an increase in the consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes.

Farm to School

Despite not having supplemental funds to provide Farm to School (F2S) programming FANS is taking great strides in providing F2S opportunities in the district. FANS, in collaboration with community partners, has helped to coordinate the following:

  • Purchasing and serving food from local farms (Marin Organics and Marin Produce)
  • School Gardens (Master Gardeners)
  • Composting
  • In class nutrition education (college interns, parents and FANS)
  • In-class snacks – cooking classes
  • On farm gleaning (Marin Organics)
  • Farmer visits to classroom
  • Marketing local farm and local products on menu and website

In addition to the partners listed above FANS also has the support from the following entities to help promote the F2S efforts:

  • County Office of Education lends help in promoting F2S work
  • Whole Foods of Novato
  • Sutter Hospital Student Diabetic Community Project
  • Youth Leadership Institute
  • Nutrition Wellness Program – Department of Health and Human Services
  • Marin Physical Activity & Nutrition Wellness Collaborative
  • Marin Organics Farm to School
  • Novato Public Access TV
  • University Interns from San Jose State, San Francisco State, and Dominican University

A parent group called Novato Live Well Network “Lunch Buddies”, are volunteer adults who come during the lunch period to talk to the children about food and take surveys on types of food. They talk about nutrition and its relationship to a healthy body and learning. Additionally there are two youth groups that support school wellness.

Harvest of the Month is promoted both in the classroom and cafeteria. Principals are sent HOTM newsletters and menus feature HOTM products and printed promotions. Promotional posters are also on display in cafeterias.

The Marin Organic Gleaning Program is a unique program which provides free local/organic product to FANS and brings school community members on to farms to make the farm to fork connection. The gleaning program is ran Mondays in the fall from 4:00-6:00pm. Marin school community members meet at local farms to glean less marketable produce. This produce is delivered the following day with the regular Marin Organic deliveries and is served the following day in the school menu. Miguel estimates that in the fall the gleaning program saves his district up to $500/week on produce.

Miguel believes that F2S efforts enhance wellness at his school by: increasing awareness for their students in nutrition education, sustainability, economic impact, environmental impact and social responsibility.

Summary

By acting as a “catalyst” FANS food service director enables community partners to provide local/organic produce and offer nutrition education programming.  FANS Director is business-savvy and highly values providing nutritious foods to his schools.

NUSD Barriers to school wellness include:

  • Outdated kitchen facilities
  • Not enough time allotted for breakfast and lunch periods
  • Inadequate eating environments at schools
  • Lack of dedicated wellness staff/nutrition educator

Santa Cruz City Schools

View Surf City Cafe Annual Elementary Menu Calendar
Download Publisher File of Annual Elementary Menu Calendar (136MB)

SCCS has 13,000 students in 2 high schools, 2 middle schools and 4 elementary schools serving 1,700 lunches and 800 breakfasts per day. Second chance breakfast is offered at 10:00.

47% of the district is eligible for free and reduced meals.

SCCS scratch cooks in a central kitchen and packs out to school sites for reheating and serving. They make use of commodity items to cook with and practice “stealth health”, incorporating fruits and vegetables in many recipes.

SCCS works with a local organic distributor, ALBA organics, and purchases about 70% of their produce from local farms.

SCCS has a strong school gardening program. All four elementary schools have garden coordinators paid by an education parcel tax and the two high schools are starting garden programs. Two elementary schools have nutrition educators funded by the Network for A Healthy California.

General Information

Santa Cruz City Schools is composed of 7,000 students in 13 schools. Four elementary, three middle schools, and four high schools serving 790 breakfasts, 1,600 lunches, and 100 snacks per day. 39% of the district’s student population is eligible for free or reduced price meals and three schools have 50% or more of their students eligible for free or reduced price meals. The district food service runs catering and a summer feeding program that served 7,000 summer meals.

Santa Cruz City Schools Food Service (SCCSFS) is managed by Food Service Director Jamie Smith. In 2009 Jamie was hired by the district under the recommendation of the wellness committee. The wellness committee was interested in a dramatic change in school food and in his first year Jamie converted operations to include more scratch cooking and locally sourced produce.

Santa Cruz City Schools has a progressive wellness policy that is geared towards purchasing locally grown produce and providing garden-enhanced nutrition education.

Menu Planning

SCCSFS employs a traditional food-based menu plan and has a 5 week cycle. Their menu allows for occasional changes due to seasonal availability of produce. SCCSFS utilizes “offer vs. serve”. Salad bars are offered in all four elementary schools and two of the middle schools. Jamie notes that these bars help increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. Each day three to seven vegetables and about three fruits are offered at the salad bars. Themed salad bars, served with an entrée are offered, such as: taco salad bar, nacho salad bar, and deli sandwich day. SCCSFS follows a Harvest of the Month program and produce from each month is featured on menus. Additionally Jamie offers seasonal, “kid friendly” options such as apples, kiwis, spinach, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, and strawberries. Fresh fruit and vegetables are offered a la carte in all schools.

Sourcing and Buying

Jamie utilizes entitlement dollars to his fullest potential purchasing canned produce, dairy, grains, meat, and legumes. Additionally he has purchased fresh produce from the DOD Fresh Program and estimates that about three percent of his produce comes via entitlement.

Jamie estimates that 40% of his produce is purchased from ALBA a locally sourced/organic grower collaborative. 10% comes direct from farmers and the remaining 50% is sourced from a broad-liner. Santa Cruz City School’s wellness policy suggests that local produce be purchased within a 75 mile radius. Purchasing from ALBA and local growers allows Jamie to purchase 50% of his produce from within a 75 mile radius. Regional produce is defined as California grown. Direct communication with growers and ALBA often allows for reasonably priced organic product.

Production and Serving

Forty percent of the food served at SCCSFS is produced centrally and distributed to school sites and one third of the school sites do all the meal preparation on site. When cooking vegetables stir frying and steaming are the preferred methods. When serving fresh fruits about half are served whole, while the others are cut. All fruits are served raw. Most fresh vegetables are served cut and about half the time they are served cooked.

Jamie is trained as a chef and he creates most of his recipes when cooking from scratch. The purchase of a combi-oven and blast chiller have greatly increased the ability for scratch cooking to take place in the central kitchen, be cooled to a safe level, and packed out. SCCSFS practices “stealth health”, incorporating fruits and vegetables in menu items to adding fiber and vegetables while sweetening, coloring, fortifying a menu item. Giant hand held immersion blenders are a great tools used to incorporate vegetable matter in many items.

SCCSFS has adequate space to serve fresh fruits and vegetables but more immersion blenders and continuous feed chopper machines would greatly add to their ability to cook from scratch.

Promotion and Marketing

Healthy, locally sourced foods and Harvest of the Month are promoted via the web, menus, newsletters, the radio, and back to school nights. Teachers have been recruited as “tasters” and school food festivals have been ran to promote the concept of healthy school food to the community and parents. In the near future farmer profile trading cards will be available to promote the local foods served in cafeterias. In the 2011-2012 school year the school food program will be rebranded as “Surf City Café” and a year long menu will be released that promotes seasonal offerings.

Farm to School

SCCSFS is an exemplary model of farm to school. The food service is able to purchase large amounts of their produce from local farms. Other community partners and the two Network for a Healthy California garden-enhanced nutrition educators lend to the movement. All elementary schools (4) in the district have paid garden coordinators which are funded as part of an educational parcel tax.  The middle and high schools are working on garden plans as well. The Santa Cruz Education Foundation helps raise money for school gardens. Life Lab offers farm-based field trip programs and runs the FoodWhat youth program which hosts two farm events and afterschool internships for teens. The Community Alliance with Family Farmers runs its own farm to school program which offers Harvest of the Month tasting baskets, farmer visits, and farm field trips for teachers that arrange them. UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems and the local food bank run the Central Coast School Food Alliance which brings area food service directors together for networking and betterment.

Summary

There is a strong community of farm to school activity in Santa Cruz City Schools. The Santa Cruz City Schools wellness policy has direct mandates for farm to school type programming to thrive in the district. School food service is able and willing to purchase and serve local produce and a large network of support organizations help to educate students in the classroom and gardens. Having a food service director that is a chef that likes to cook local produce from scratch doesn’t hurt either.

Paso Robles Joint Unified School District

The Culinary Arts Academy (CAA) at Paso Robles Joint Unified School District serves 1,380 breakfast and 2,510 school lunches per day as well as running culinary training classes for high school and college students.

Additionally, the CAA runs a restaurant open to the public, catering business, and other outside contracts. All schools have salad bars and at times CAA purchases directly from farmers at the local farmers markets.

CAA has created healthy alternatives to many of the students’ favorite menu items. For example they have formulated a ranch dressing with 40% less fat and a pizza crust made from scratch with garbanzo bean flour.

Exemplary school garden programs help make the farm to fork connection by incorporating garden produce into school food.

General Information

Under the direction of the Culinary Arts Academy Director Rod Blackner, Paso Robles Joint Unified School District Food Service is much more than your average school food service. In addition to serving 1380 breakfasts and 2510 lunches per day the Culinary Arts Academy is an exemplary diversified food service operation. The Culinary Arts Academy (CAA) is a modern food service facility that was constructed through a school district loan and the vision of Rod. The CAA operates a four semester culinary training program for high school students who run a full service restaurant and catering operation on site. In the evenings the CAA offers a culinary certificate program to the local community college. In addition to school food service, the CAA contracts with Meals on Wheels, other school districts, and at times contracts with local restaurants.

Paso Robles Joint Unified School District is located in Central California and has 6500 students in six elementary, two middle, one high school, and two alternative high schools. 43% of the district is eligible for free or reduced price meals.

Menu Planning and Salad Bars

Rod meets with students to help him create his monthly menu. This allows for student buy-in and helps kids better understand what is being served. They follow a traditional food-based menu planning model and utilize “offer vs. serve”.

All of the traditional school sites have salad bars. Pre-packaged salads are offered daily to teachers and to middle/high schools. Rod notes that salad bars increase the amount of produce that is offered to his students. A la carte fruits and vegetables are offered at all school sites.

Sourcing and Buying

The CAA purchases fresh fruits and vegetables from produce distributors, broad-liners, local farms, grower’s collaboratives, and they use commodities when available. At some sites school garden produce is incorporated in school food to enhance the salad bar or other menu items.

Rod estimates that about 35% of his produce comes from Central California growers in a 150 mile radius. He maintains relationships with a farmer’s market manager to connect with and purchase directly from farmers. The location of Paso Robles and Rod’s communication with local growers allows him to source just about all his produce needs seasonally, when the price is right.

Production and Serving

The bulk (75%) of fresh fruit and vegetable production is done at the CAA kitchen and distributed to school sites. School sites serve food in a variety of ways including: tray service from a serving line, salad bars with or without entrée’s, food wagon or carts, and window service. Salad bar preparation is done at each school site and one school site prepares all their meals on site.

Fresh vegetables are primarily served cut and raw. Fresh fruits are all served raw and 75% of those are served cut.

The CAA has an exceptional food service facility that serves as a production kitchen, teaching kitchen, catering/event venue, and restaurant. In addition to professional food service staff the CAA also employs an instructional chef, assistant chef, and restaurant manager who train the high school/college students and run the catering and restaurant business. It is truly an impressive facility and program.

Rod’s desire to create healthy food that kids will actually eat paired with a great site and staff has allowed their food service to create some healthy school food options:

  • Ranch dressing is made with yogurt and chia seed gel and has 40% less fat than traditional ranch dressing.
  • Pizza crust is made with chia seed gel and garbanzo bean flour which makes for a higher protein pizza.
  • Cinnamon buns are made with whole wheat flour.

Excess foods are donated to food banks, composted, or disposed of in the garbage or disposal.

Promotion and Marketing

Rod meets with students in the classroom regarding menu creation and to help explain why certain items are on the menu. At times local farmers are invited to share tastings in the class. Rod mentions that promoting local produce doesn’t necessarily increase consumption. He says sometimes it does and sometimes it does not. Communication to parents regarding school food is done via school menus, newsletters, and back to school nights.

Farm to School Programming

Farm to school programming at Paso Joint Unified School District is self funded, either at the school site or via the food service account. As mentioned above CAA is able to purchase from local farmers when product is available and priced right.

Farmer visits and tastings occur in the classroom and other nutrition food education occurs on a per class basis depending on the school or teacher interest. Parent groups and cooperative extension are other groups that lend support towards nutrition and garden education.

At the Bauer-Speck Elementary School Garden they have a very well developed garden and composting program that is spearheaded by a 5th grade teacher Judy Honerkamp. Through support of her school’s principal Judy has a sub on most Fridays which allows her to run the once a week garden program. She teaches grades 3-5 in the garden and the older grades collect food scraps daily and feed their composting worms. Miss Amy the kitchen manager welcomes the variety of produce that is produced in the school garden into the salad bar. Judy mentions the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom as a great resource that helped her get her program to where it is today.

Summary

Paso Robles Joint Unified School District school food strives to provide healthy options that kids will eat. Local produce, healthy menu items, salad bars in all schools and incredible kitchen facilities lend themselves to create an exemplary school food service.

Turlock Unified School District

TUSD serves 13,200 K-12 students at 14 school sites. The district has a free and reduced price meal eligibility rate of 64%.

8% of TUSD’s budget ($500,000) is used for marketing and nutrition education efforts. A communication marketing assistant and two part-time teachers promote nutrition education and school food. These efforts, along with the “real.fresh.” branding, has led to over a million dollars of increased revenue and a close to a tripling of total student meal participation.

Produce bars are available at all schools in the district (packaged and self serve). Whole fruits, fresh vegetables are planned and served daily.

The USDA Fruits and Vegetables Galore tool kit is utilized as a training manual for staff at sites. Fruits and Vegetables Galore images, logo, and branding are also used for marketing purposes.

TUSD designates a 90 Mile area for local and 500 miles for regional. The majority of fresh produce (40%) is purchased through the DOD program. 25% of produce is purchased though a local cooperative bid. A local produce company and local farmers round out TUSD’s produce purchasing.

General Information

Located in Stanislaus County, Turlock Unified School District (TUSD), Child Nutrition Services (CNS) is a leader in the county in creating a marketing program that focuses on feeding healthy foods to students and incorporating F2S programs based on the preferences of the students. Turlock serves a total population of 13,200 K-12 grade students at 14 school sites. This includes; 9 elementary schools, 2 Middle Schools/Junior High, 3 high Schools, and I Adult School. The district has a FRPM eligibility rate of 64%.

Budget & Staffing

Scott estimates the following use of his 5.8 million dollar budget; $250,000 or 4% is used to purchase fresh produce. What is uncommon is that 8% of his budget ($500,000) is used for Marketing and Nutrition Education efforts. Scott does not receive any grant funding at the current time. In addition, he does not encumber on the General Fund.

Scott Soieseth is the Child Nutrition Services Director. He is supported in his office by a supervisor, a secretarial staff, a marketing assistant, and a part-time dietitian. What is most interesting is the full time Communication marketing assistant. This position works on all the campaigns and projects to develop materials and promote the Nutrition Feeding Programs, the F2S efforts, and the Nutrition Education Programs. Two part-time teacher coordinators are employed at two sites to promote Nutrition Education Efforts.

At the school cafeteria sites Scott employees 16 full-time (over 6 hours) and 43 part-time staff. All the full-time staff are cafeteria managers.

Menu Planning

TUSD/CNS participates in the following programs; National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Summer Seamless Feeding Program, and the Meal Supplement (Snack) Program, Child Care and Adult Program, Catering and the TEAM Nutrition Program. The following are the participation based on enrollment; 65% NSLP, 25% SBP, 18% SSFP, and 7% MSP.

TUSD/CNS utilizes the NSMP menu planning system. Menus are planned 30 days in advance. In the 2011-2012 school year Scott will be implementing a quarterly cycle menu. Secondary sites utilize scatter systems and self service serving systems. The elementary sites are all served using Speed lines.

Produce Bars are available at all schools in the district (packaged and self serve). Whole fruits, fresh vegetables are planned and served daily.  Offer versus serve is implemented at all school sites. The USDA Fruits and Vegetables Galore tool kit is utilized as a training manual for staff at sites. At the high schools and middle schools packaged salads are available for students. At the high schools all of the scatter systems provide “sandwich & burger” self serve bar veggie toppings and fresh fruit choices.

Local Wellness Policy

TUSD adopted the first LWP in June 2004. Since that time a LWP Committee has been meeting consistently. The LWP committee has revised the policy twice since its initial adoption. Changes and revisions were made to meet current National and State Law on Competitive Foods. There are currently no policies that address F2S.

Purchasing and Sourcing

Scott designates a 90 Mile area for local and 500 miles for regional. Scott purchases the majority of fresh produce (40%0 through the DOD program. He purchases about 25% of his produce though a local cooperative bid. He also has a relationship with a local produce company and several local farmers (3). Scott plans to expand the number of local farmers in the next year.

He currently purchases/sources several of his meat products from local sources that provide organic product (whole chicken and beef patties). He plans to begin sourcing more of his entrée menu items (burritos, other meat items). Scott does all the purchasing of produce himself. The part time dietitian does support identifying local farmers and vendors.

In the next year, Scott has developed a relationship with one high school agriculture teacher. The teacher will be growing produce to be used in that high school feeding program.

Overall Farm to School Activities

  • Purchasing and serving local food from local farms
  • School Gardens
  • In class nutrition education
  • In class snacks
  • On farm gleaning
  • Farmer visits to classrooms
  • Marketing local farm and local products on the menu and website
  • Community agriculture events

Key Partners

  • District staff-Educators, Administrators
  • Parent Groups
  • Local Farmers
  • County Cooperative Extension
  • Stanislaus state University
  • Farm Bureau
  • Alliance for a Healthier Generation (staff wellness)
  • Dairy Council of CA
  • Farm Bureau
  • Other school districts (glean information)
  • Stanislaus County Nutrition Action Plan Committee

A specialty crop grant is providing funds for a research project “Food Dude”. This project in partnership with CSU, Stanislaus provides funds to measure pre and post consumption of identified specialty crops.

In addition, TUSD was awarded grants for 7 elementary school sites. The funding which came from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation provided funding to conduct staff wellness activities.

Production and Service

All of the fruit served is whole. The only production necessary is washing the fruit. The veggies are all brought in precut. There is no staff dedicated to preparing produce. Staff is involved in assembly and the packaging of entrée salads (for secondary sites) and packaging of single serve veggies for the elementary sites.

Scott has adequate storage and preparation facilities for produce. Although he did state that if his sites were more involved in preparation and production his facilities would be inadequate. Scott noted he would like to purchase equipment to precut some of the veggies rather than purchase them precut.

He has installed a chicken roaster oven. The dark meat is served roasted with baked fries or asparagus. The white meat is shredded by staff and used in burritos and tacos.

Promotion and Marketing

Several years ago Scott hired a marketing company to conduct focus groups with his secondary students. The firm than used this information to develop the program “real.fresh” and a marketing logo. I have attached a description of the program. Scott has implemented most of the recommendations at the secondary schools. He then plans to introduce the program to his elementary schools.

Scott also has a full time staff dedicated to marketing, a Communication Marketing Specialist. I have attached the job description. This position has provided the labor and resources to implement the Marketing Plan.

The Marketing aspect of the TUSD/CNS is very strong and successful. Scott feels this is due to hiring the company and having dedicated staff for Marketing.

TUSD/CNS conducts promotion of the CNS program with a focus on offering and consuming fresh produce. The messages are communicated via the web, newsletters, local media, school community events, healthy messages on delivery vehicles, posters for both the schools, cafeterias, and community sites, board presentations, local papers, themed festivals, and farmers markets.

Student Preferences

As stated in the survey, TUSD students prefer veggies (both fruit and vegetables) in the following preference; fresh, frozen, canned. When serving local product Scott has noted an increase in student consumption in produce. Scott does not serve nuts and legumes.

Nutrition Education Efforts

HOTM materials are also distributed to teachers to promote the use of Nutrition Education and Taste testing in the classroom. Currently, two school sites are involved in HOTM and garden enhanced nutrition education. Although Nutrition Education materials and TEAM nutrition education materials are promoted and/or provided to educators Scott feels the amount of classroom instruction is “hit and miss’.

Summary

Scott is certainly a leader both locally and regionally in the development of his Marketing program. It has been planned and implemented through a marketing plan He is also a leader for the area in F2S efforts. . It would be interesting to see how far Scott could go if he developed his F2S efforts in the same manner.

Riverside Unified School District

Approximately 43,400 students are enrolled, with 59.5% eligible for free or reduced priced meals.  Daily, the district serves nearly 8,000 breakfasts, 26,000 lunches, and almost 2,000 snacks.

A Farmers Market Salad Bar is featured at each of the 29 elementary schools.  50-100% of salad bar items are sourced from local growers, depending on the season. Secondary schools offer prepackaged salads.

The RUSD salad bar coordinator makes purchases directly from several local farmers. The district reinvented its invoice and payment procedures to accommodate small farmers who need to be paid quickly.

The district’s nutrition educator conducts taste tests monthly at select schools to pique interest in new fruits and vegetables.  Free samples are always offered to promote new meal items to students.

School lunch programs can make a profit, even while serving meals with food ingredients totaling less that $1 per meal, AND with purchasing locally grown, seasonally available produce. Riverside Unified School District, headed by Rodney Taylor, has proven that it can be done. It can be done in an affluent school district like Santa Monica Malibu USD, from which Mr. Taylor came, and it can be done in a less privileged community like Riverside, to which he went in 2002. These are highly surprising findings, but no more than the notion that yes, kids WILL eat fresh fruit and vegetables and they’ll even come back for more.

RUSD’s Farmers Market Salad Bar Program is but one of Mr. Taylor’s many marketing strategies that has helped bring his school food service program into fiscal and nutritional success. His innovative, fearless and friendly leadership style is infectious and creates a can-do climate throughout RUSD Nutrition Services.   The Farmer’s Market Salad Bar Program has helped to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables that his students eat, but it has also created new jobs, a dependable market for local farmers, maintained land in agricultural production in Southern California, and familiarized children with the source of their food.  With this and other changes made in how RUSD spends its money, Mr. Taylor and his staff make a million dollar profit for this urban school district, providing much needed funds to enhance all of its programs.

General Information

RUSD has 47 schools (30 elementary,  7 middle, 6 high, 2 continuation/alternative) Their annual food service budget is $17.7 million dollars a year, of which approximately $6.0 million is for food, and another $6.0 million is for labor (not including benefits). None of this funding comes from the district’s general fund.  10% of their food budget goes to the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables.

While RUSD has a national recognized Farm to School Program, it is notable that the district’s Wellness Policy does not reflect its strong commitment to promoting local agriculture or school gardens.  At the time of its development, there was high staff turnover at the district level and the wellness policy was already past due by state requirements.  Consequently it was drafted hastily and has not been revisited since.  While many districts start with the wellness policy to determine their direction and vision, RUSD Nutrition Services’ focus has been internally driven by the leadership of Mr. Taylor ever since he took the helm in 2002.

General Food Service Operation

Approximately 43,400 students attend school in RUSD, with 59.5% eligible for free or reduced priced meals.  The district has 24 Title 1 schools. It serves nearly 8,000 breakfasts, 26,000 lunches, and almost 2,000 snacks (during after school programs) daily.  In order to acquire additional revenue, the district also services 13 contract sites, provides cold storage facilities for outside businesses, provides catering services throughout the district and city, and operates a café for staff at the “Nutrition Center”.  The Center houses the central kitchen and staff of business operations and nutrition services.

Child Nutrition Services employs 61 full time managers, 32 full time kitchen prep and serving staff, and 265 part time kitchen prep and serving staff.  Of these, several staff are dedicated to fruit and vegetable preparation and serving.  Much of the preparation for the district’s elementary school salad bars is done in the central kitchen, although some prep is done at each site.  A district Salad Bar Coordinator is responsible for receiving orders from school sites, compiling the orders, and placing the orders with local farmers.  In addition, a full time Registered Dietician is employed to provide nutrition education throughout the district as well as organize farm and garden-based education opportunities, including farm tours, farmers market field trips, and classroom visits by farmers.  RD Adleit Asi also operates an internship program for students at Loma Linda University, Utah State, and UC Riverside, who help teach many of the in class nutrition lessons.

Menu Planning

While menus are generally planned biannually in RUSD, the incorporation of fresh fruits and vegetables requires more flexibility since they must respond to local and seasonal availability. Hence, salad bar items may be determined weekly, while fruit and vegetable components on the traditional hot menu is determined monthly.  Menu items appear on a 5 week cycle with some changes subject to availability of products.  RUSD uses SHAPE menu planning and practices “offer vs. serve” in order to reduce food waste.  In addition, their policy is that any student can come back for seconds at the salad bar, so as to discourage children from taking too much out of concern that they might not be able to get more if they are still hungry.  RUSD staff would be open to food based menu planning to ensure that children eat from all 5 food groups.

The Farm to School Salad Bar at each elementary school is where local and seasonal fruits and vegetables are truly the stars. 50-100% of the items on the bar are locally sourced and seasonal depending on the time of year.  It has not made menu planning more difficult in the opinion of food service staff.   The presence of the salad bars has increased RUSD’s purchase of produce, offering of fruits and vegetables, and consumption thereof.  Four or five fresh fruit options and four or five fresh vegetables are present on the salad bar each day.  What is served is determined by seasonal availability, price, and close regular communications with local farmers, with whom RUSD contracts directly. There is a philosophy of flexibility built in to accommodate fluctuations due to acts of “mother nature” or other factors that impact available volume of products.

To ensure that the Salad Bar meals meet the calorie criteria for lunches, the students have to select the right serving sizes from the 5 food groups.

Themed menus are one method that RUSD has used to promote interest in the salad bars, as well integrating ethnic or cultural produce items such as jicama, cilantro, jalapenos and avocados. Examples of theme salad bars include the Baked potato bar, Nacho bar, Top a pizza bar, Taco bar, and Top a waffle bar.   Recipe ideas are gleaned from staff and recipe books.

Ala carte fruits and vegetables are also available at all sites. Furthermore, prepackaged salads are offered at middle and high schools and to staff since it was found to be more cost effective for these audiences.  Older students tend to be less open to eating at the salad bars.

Sourcing and/or Buying Practices

The innovative use of government-provided entitlement funds is one feature of RUSD’s purchasing that actually helps it maintain its salad bar program.  RUSD applies 20% of entitlement funds to dairy purchases, 60% to meat and poultry products, 5% for whole grains, 5% for legumes, and 10% for produce through the DoD Fresh Program. Because these funds help the district acquire more expensive protein products at a better price, it frees up money for purchasing local produce, which generally is more expensive.  10% of the food budget goes to fruits and vegetables, and of this 50% is from produce distributors and vendors, while 30% comes direct from farmers.  A minute portion does come from school gardens, primarily when it is associated with a promotional event.

Connection with Local or Regional Foods

For RUSD, “local” foods are defined as being grown within 50 miles of Riverside.  Relationships have been developed with a few key local farmers that satisfy the majority of RUSD’s produce needs – these include Bob Knight of Old Grove Orange, Doug Powell of Powell Farms, Crestmore Farms, and Hickman Farms.  As mentioned previously 50-100% of salad bar items are sourced from these growers.  20% of the prepackaged salads-to-go comes from these vendors, 30% of fresh fruits and vegetables on the school lunch tray from the entrée line, and 5% from the school breakfast tray.

When RUSD started working with local farmers they discovered they had to develop a faster turnaround for payment since most small operations cannot accommodate a 30 day schedule from invoice to payment. They pay them now within a week.  Delivery logistics were also (luckily) less of an issue since farmers simply make deliveries once or twice a week to one site only – the central kitchen. If more fruit and vegetables were available from local growers, Mr. Taylor would certainly purchase from them.  As it stands, bananas and jicama solely come from sources outside California. Reasons mentioned that would motivate RUSD to purchase more local foods include finding more farmers in the area, having more flexible purchasing regulations, and financial incentives for purchasing locally.  In addition, support and interest in the program from teachers, parents, community members, and the district board of education would be of great help and may allay concerns about the cost and availability of local produce supplies.  Despite being labeled a leader in Farm to School programs, Mr. Taylor remains humble about how much farther the district could go given the proper support and infrastructure.  This includes everything from more seasonal recipe options provided by other schools districts willing to share, to vendors clearly indicating where their products come from.

The top ten whole fruit or vegetable items purchased by the district varies seasonally:

Fall/Winter

Summer/Spring

Broccoli

Cucumber

Cabbage

Tomatoes

Lettuce/Romaine

Lettuce

Celery

Strawberries

Cauliflower

Celery

Carrots

Apples

Tomatoes

Tangerine

Pears

Valencia Oranges

Tangerines

Grapes

Oranges

Peaches

Since so much food preparation is done in-house, the district does not purchase as much minimally processed fresh fruits and vegetables.  Some labor intensive items though such as diced watermelon are still purchased.

Production and Serving

Fresh fruits and vegetables are distributed using a commissary system where it is procured and prepared centrally and then distributed to satellite locations. For hot foods, RUSD uses a conventional system of food production where food is prepared, held hot, and served. This includes corn, green beans, peas, and vegetarian beans which are all either baked or steamed. While the central kitchen does a considerable amount of preparation of the fruit and vegetables, site kitchens pitch in to complete the work.  For example, salad bar lettuce is prepared in the site kitchen since they found that it needed the extra attention that site staff could provide, cleaning small batches and using  salad spinners, etc.  Orange and apple slicing is also done at sites with wedgers, etc.  Almost all produce is purchase whole and served cut on the salad bar, with the processing done by the central kitchen and the sites.

The 32,000 square foot central kitchen was a remarkable investment by the district. It has adequate and dedicated refrigeration for all of the produce it works with, and space for preparation.  The district has no equipment needs for its current methods of food service, thanks to a previous federal ARRA grant for equipment.  However, there are areas of the central kitchen that are not in use (cook chill area with extremely large vats,  bread baking area) that in the future RUSD would like to modify to permit more scratch cooking.

There are many serving styles used in the district including serving lines, salad bars with and without an entrée, and food courts.

Promotion and Marketing

This is probably the strongest area of RUSD’s Food Service Program.  With strong marketing and accessible/strategic  leadership, RUSD Nutrition Services has been able to grow  profits in excess of $1 million dollars annually, meaning that when he came on board the Nutrition Services was losing money with $8 million in business, and last year Nutrition Services brought  in $16 million, with $1.2 million in profits for the school district. The WOW brand is the overall Food Service logo and image, while Chef Ryan Douglas’s Fresh Express name and logo are used to market specialty sandwiches and salads to staff and secondary level students.  The Farmers Market Salad Bar Program is yet another promotional campaign, targeting elementary aged students and having the added emphasis on locally grown seasonal items.  All audiences are targeted for promotional campaigns – students, staff, parents, and community members.  This is because buy-in by adults is critical in order for the students to see adults modeling fruit and vegetable consumption, and also because adults are an addition source of revenue and often make eating/purchasing  decisions on behalf of their children.

Mr. Taylor has refined the start-up procedure for their Farm to School Salad Bar Program into a science, and makes promotion a priority.  Students at new schools receive a salad bar orientation, try samples for free, and partake in a festive kick-off event when the salad bar is finally offered as an option during lunch.

Teachers are provided with many incentives to promote fresh fruits and vegetables including pedometers, lunch passes, and notepads.  They can sign up for free classroom presentations by local farmers or by district nutrition staff, and farm field trips as well. Teachers at schools that have 50% or more students receiving free/reduced price lunch get a copy of the HOTM Educator Newsletter to go along with the featured fruit or vegetable on the salad bar.  Nutrition Education in the district is an optional part of the curriculum and only those that request it (12-20 classes a year) benefit from the presentations and field trips.   Some schools such as Emerson Elementary also take part in special events connected to their school gardens.

RUSD outreaches to parents primarily through print media.  It was found that not all parents had internet access, making this an inequitable method of communication.  Back to School Nights are also an important start-of-year outreach tool to parents for the Nutrition Services program.

Local and seasonal foods are promoted through the Salad Bar Program and through Harvest of the Month. Student preference surveys and taste testing help determine new produce items but availability and price are also critical factors in whether or not it makes it onto the bars. The salad bars are also the location for menu promotions such as the theme bars.

Student Preferences

Students simply prefer the taste of the fresh seasonal produce that is served on the salad bars. They note a distinct difference in flavor between those items and those purchased from produce vendors at other times of the year.  Student intake of fruit, vegetables, legumes, and nuts/seeds all have increased thanks to the salad bar program.  Following the expected initial spike in interest in the salad bar, most schools settle into an average of 25% of students at any given school selecting the salad bar as their option over the hot lunch.  Daily rates vary depending on what is being served as the hot entrée.

Farm to School

With the exception of a district-wide composting/food waste management program, RUSD has implemented all other facets of a Farm to School Program to varying degrees. This includes purchasing food from local/regional farms, School gardens, In-Class Nutrition Education including cooking classes and in-class snacks, out-of-class learning opportunities e.g. farm and farmer market visits, and farmer visits to classrooms.

This has been made possible by working with many on-site district partners as well as outside agencies.  Of utmost contribution has been the Center for Food and Justice, which originally partnered with RUSD on a grant from the California Endowment to fund the district’s first Salad Bar Coordinator position in 2005. With this funding now over, the revenues from the established salad bars are able to cover the salary for this position.

Local hospitals and health organizations have also provided resources for nutrition education for select schools in RUSD.  Kaiser Hospital is conducting a 3 year study on the effect of the presence of salad bars on the BMI of 4th and 5th graders.  Students at the participating school received pedometers to encourage them to take 10,000 steps a day, and a nutrition log. They also received nutrition education targeted against diabetes. The program is called “Steps to Health”.  At Gage Middle School, Riverside Medical Clinic Foundation engaged young people through a health education and fitness program for teens and their families called “Kick Off Riverside”.  6th grade students and their families met at the school one night every month for a health and nutrition talk and family exercise time led by local fitness businesses.  UC Cooperative Extension FSNEP provided the EatFit curriculum, which was delivered by the PE teachers during class.  Lastly, Riverside Department of Health Services helped fund and conduct salad bar etiquette classes at schools that were new to the salad bar program.

Inland Orange Conservancy is a collective of orchard owners in the Redlands area northeast of Riverside and managed by Bob Knight.  Knight’s group developed a local history curriculum for 3rd graders focused on the presence of citrus in the region and how the landscape has changed over the decades.  The curriculum is available to teachers and includes a farm tour when the orchards are in bloom.

Successful features of RUSD’s farm to school program

  1. Revenue neutral, while being able to create new jobs.
  2. Provides income for local farmers and hence protection of dwindling local agricultural lands.
  3. Marketing model that promotes more FV consumption to all groups – teachers, parents, administrators, children.

Barriers or challenges to implementation

  1. Start up funds
  2. Finding and contracting with local farmers
  3. Delivery procedures
  4. Teacher interest in educational components (still very minimal participation in farm tours, farmer in the classroom visits, etc.)
  5. Making the program revenue neutral
  6. Solutions developed to overcome barriers

The Salad Bar Program was started at sites with the most receptive key staff.  RUSD used these examples to promote interest at other sites and demonstrate the benefits to the schools at no cost to themselves. By adding salad bars to a few sites a year, RUSD ramped up to its current level and was able to slowly and steadily work out logistical issues such as invoicing, production and delivery procedures, staff training, etc.

RUSD’s process for developing a farm to school program

GETTING STARTED

  1. Plan/arrange for start-up funding (about 10K per site – 5K equipment, 5K for one new 3 hour employee)
  2. Develop working relationship with the school’s cafeteria manager – get buy in and train by visiting site with existing salad bar.
  3. Find receptive local farmer or farmer’s market manager – find out what is available and when, who is most interested, prices, and potential purchasing volumes. Set up meetings as needed.
  4. Establish Salad Bar Coordinator position at the site – everyone on staff rotates through this position so they are all familiar with and invested in it.
  5. Establish pick-up, sorting, and delivery procedures for produce.

OPERATING THE SALAD BAR

  1. Design the menu,
  2. Order Equipment,
  3. Begin marketing campaign (emails, memos, flyers to staff and parents, attend teacher meetings to introduce concept and answer questions, provide samples to classes with teacher permission)
  4. Inservice cafeteria staff.
  5. Kick off with festive grand opening.

EDUCATING STUDENTS ABOUT NUTRITION AND THE GROWING OF LOCAL FOOD

  1. Offer voluntary nutrition education options such as HOTM resources, trainings, district staff presentations for kids.
  2. Promote voluntary school garden programs,
  3. Offer free farmer visits, chef visits, farm field trips, farmers markets field trips.

Summary

Farm to School programs are praised for providing “soft” benefits such as tastier food, people feeling reconnected to the source of their food, and reducing the environmental impact of food transportation, but there are much more tangible benefits that speak more clearly to other people’s desires  – namely, Farm to School makes money for school districts when done as part of an overall marketing strategy, it creates jobs, and increases revenue for local agriculture.  For RUSD, locally grown food has become the tasty lure that entices kids to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and also helps the district secure the funds they are eligible for from the National School Lunch Program.

Santa Rita Union School District

SRUSD is composed of six schools serving about 3000 students, 70% are eligible for free and reduced price meals. Two schools have 100% free and reduced price meal eligibility. About 2000 lunch and 830 breakfast meals are served each day.

Free fresh fruit/salad bars are offered at all schools, everyday. Pre packaged salads are offered in one middle school that does not have space for a salad bar.

SRUSD Food Service is managed by Sodexo who offers a full range of print and display promotional materials including a harvest of the month promotion.

Sodexo’s produce distributor Fresh Point offers informative buying guides and is working towards providing source identification on invoices.

A reusable “red basket” serving tray is helping to reduce waste and save money.

SRUSD has modern kitchen facilities. About 80% of their meals are prepared at school sites.

General Information

Santa Rita USD (SRUSD) is located in Northern Salinas and is composed of four elementary schools and one middle school (in 2010-2011 a second middle school opened) which serve 3000 students. 70% of their students are eligible for free and reduced meals and two schools have 100% free and reduced meal eligibility.

On an average day the following number of reimbursable meals are served: breakfast –  830, lunch – 1945, and snacks – 90. After school apples and bananas were served on an average of 90 snacks per day (this program is no longer available due to funding cuts).

SRUSD Food Service is operated by an outside contractor, Lynn Anderson of Sodexo. Sodexo is fully responsible for all procurement of food and paper goods, menu planning, and managing meal production/serving. Additionally Sodexo management is responsible for promotions and merchandising.

SRUSD Food Service employs one full time (Sodexo contractor) manager, 10 full time kitchen prep/serving staff, and 6 part time prep/serving staff. Their 2009-2010 budget was estimated to bring in $1.4 million in revenue with $1.5 million in expenses. The district pays $35, 000 in food costs and $825,000 to Sodexo. Labor is estimated at $608,000.

Menu Planning and Salad Bars

SRUSD Food Service plans their menus one month in advance and does not cycle their menu. Their menu planning approach is a based on a nutrient based approach. There is a fresh fruit and vegetable “all you can eat” salad bar operating in each elementary school. One middle school is not able to have salad bar due to lack of space. There is a salad bar in the new middle school. Pre packaged salads are offered in the middle school that does not have a salad bar.

Sodexo offers up to five entrée options per day and SRUSD provides at least three per day.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are sold a la carte in all five schools.

Sourcing/Buying Practices

All of the fresh fruits and vegetables SRUSD purchase come via the distributor Fresh Point. Fresh Point provides a list with pricing, quality, and seasonality indexes. There are no other options for SRUSD to purchase from other vendors or farms due to the contract they have with Sodexo.

SRUSD purchases the following with entitlement funds:
canned or frozen fruits and vegetables – 30%, dairy products -10%, meats and poultry – 50%, grains and pasta  5%, and fresh fruits and vegetables shipped directly from the warehouse when available.

Connections with Local Regional Foods

For most of the 2009-2010 academic year Lynn had no real way to determine where her produce was coming from. During the survey she stated an interest in purchasing from some local farms and stated she was likely to purchase local but due to the contact with Fresh Point she was limited in her purchasing options.

At the very end of the school year Sodexo/Fresh Point began to label their invoices as follows (taken from an email Lynn received from Sodexo):

Effective tomorrow all of your schools will have the farm names printing on the invoices. On our invoices to the right of our item description we are currently printing the following.

*L* for any local product that is purchased within 150 miles of our facility*

*O* Organic produce

*CA* Anything that is purchased locally within the state of California.

*Upon further investigation I determined that SRUSD’s “facility” is in San Francisco. With this information Lynn has a bit more information regarding where her produce comes from, once it arrives at her site.

Even with the new labeling system the following are concerns mentioned by Lynn regarding purchasing local foods: cost, food safety, supply, payment procedures, seasonality, increased burden of ordering, and quality of product.

Production and Serving

There are adequate kitchen facilities at most of their school sites for receiving, storing and preparing fresh fruits and vegetables and about 80% of their meals are prepared at the school sites. When fruits or vegetables are cooked roasting and steaming are the preferred methods. In 4 of the 5 sites meals are served as an entrée with the all you can eat salad bar.

98% of cut fruits and vegetables are purchased pre cut, 95% of their fresh fruits are served whole. 100% of vegetables are served cut.

As a mean to reduce waste and costs Lynn has piloted a reusable basket serving tray to replace Styrofoam. SRUSD will be transitioning to these reusable plastic baskets which will save on labor, waste hauling fees and is expected to save $50,000 over three years.

Promotion and Marketing

Sodexo has an extensive marketing program for their school lunch program and promotional materials are purchased from Sodexo to use in the cafeteria. The materials look professional and consistent. In addition to print promotions Sodexo has a website geared towards kids www.liftoffsplayground.com. “Lift Off” the happy star is the face of Sodexo marketing for kids. His/her message is “wellbeing” – eat, earth, friends, play, learn.

Sodexo also has two produce of the month programs one for primary grades and another for secondary grades. Lynn participates in the produce of the month program but mentioned that some months seem to be a bit “off-season”. This produce of the month program is not composed of exclusively fresh produce, during some months canned products are promoted. There are attractive posters and annual calendars to promote this program.

Student Preferences

As stated in the survey SRUSD students prefer fruits in the following order: 1) canned, 2) fresh, 3) frozen. For vegetables it is: 1) fresh, 2) canned, 3) frozen. Lynn has not observed an increase of fruits or vegetables when serving local foods.

Farm to School

SRUSD is in the early stage of farm to school (F2S) development. Lynn had a Community Alliance with Family Farmers F2S program staff present at an advisory board meeting but it didn’t seem to lead to much action. Sodexo does provide nutrition education materials for students and informational literature for food service employees. Materials geared towards food service staff list what produce is in peak season and at times list where the crops are coming from. Sourcing from Fresh Point makes it difficult for Lynn to give preference to local vendors. (Although, there has been some in roads on labeling the source of produce on invoices. Lynn also mentioned that Soledad School district, which is managed by Sodexo, is interested in adopting more F2S practices.) Lynn is interested in adopting more F2S practices but realizes there are limitations and that there will not be overnight transformations. Sodexo is also in the process of partnering with the Let’s Move Campaign and it is to be seen how they realize this partnership.

There is one flower and pumpkin patch garden ran at one elementary school. This project is overseen by the school librarian who volunteers her time to the project.

Lynn has the following questions regarding implementing F2S practices at her district, none of which are easy to answer. Being a contractor is the district makes it more difficult, especially since the district is not specifically requesting more F2S involvement.

  • How would F2S actually work in her district?
  • How can she get buy in from district staff?
  • How to motivate others to keep new programming sustained?

Summary

Working within Sodexo, there are many great benefits such as professional promotional materials, extensive menu options (including many fresh fruit and vegetable options), and the support of a large corporation.

But, at the same time there are limitations such as not being able to directly source from local vendors and being a contractor of the district rather than working from within limits staffing and programmatic choices. As Lynn mentioned she is in the early stage of her F2S programming she has connected with the Network for A Healthy California to assist in nutrition education and Sodexo seems to be making changes that are favorable to F2S programming.

Ventura Unified School District

Ventura Unified School District has 18,000 students in 17 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, and 4 high schools. Annually, approximately 821,000 breakfasts, 1,457,000 lunches, and 49,000 snacks are served within the district (all reimbursable).

Eight district schools qualify as Title 1 schools. Overall throughout the district, 40% of the school population is eligible for free or reduced price lunch.

Meals are cooked from scratch or speed scratch.  Most schools prepare their own meals, with the central kitchen supplying the remainder.

For the majority of fruits and vegetables, if it’s not seasonal and local, then it’s not served.  Produce is sourced from a distributor named “The Berry Man” or directly from local farmers.

Beautiful calendars containing student art, nutrition information, and the year’s menus are printed and distributed to all students each September.

General Overview

Ventura Unified School District’s Food and Nutrition Services is making Farm to School an essential part of their operational philosophy.  Department Director Sandy Curwood makes tough choices to adhere to seasonal and local ordering.  You won’t find apples in February here, but you will find bountiful citrus.  Choice may have been sacrificed, but the taste is worth it and the wait until the next season only makes the reappearance of a loved fruit or vegetable more satisfying.  Furthermore, VUSD’s ordering practices support the local economy. In addition to some state funding, profits from food services supports a nutrition education program that promotes school gardens, reconnected children to the source of their food, encourages students to try new foods, and makes kids healthier.   VUSD staff now regularly train other school districts on setting up their own Farm to School programs.

General Information

Ventura Unified School District (VUSD) comprises 25 schools. Ventura’s Food and Nutrition Services Department collaborates with many organizations including SHAPE, CSNA, California School Board Association, USDA Team Nutrition, Network for a Healthy California, USDA Fruit and Vegetable Program, and more. This is in large part due to the progressive and active leadership of Director Sandy Curwood.  The department is entirely self managed and has an annual budget of $7,492,000. Of this, $2,864,000 goes toward food costs, $2,231,000 for labor, and $902,000 for operating costs.  The department is able to fully support itself with the revenue it generates (ie. none of the money comes from the district’s General Fund).

Ventura USD’s wellness policy was adopted in 2006 and can be found in the district’s website, www.venturausd.org.  An active wellness council is headed by Curwood and Health Program Coordinator Nancy Maxson.

General Food Service Operation

The seaside town of Ventura supports a school district of 18,000 students who attend 17 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, and 4 high schools. Eight of these schools qualify as Title 1 schools where more than 50% of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. Overall throughout the district, 40% of the school population is eligible for free or reduced price lunch.  The school year runs from August to June.

Annually, approximately 821,000 breakfasts, 1,457,000 lunches, and 49,000 snacks are served within the district (all reimbursable).  Students qualifying for reduced priced meals get theirs for free.  All others pay $2.25 per meal for elementary students and $2.50 for middle and high school students.  Fresh fruit and vegetable snacks are served are served as part of the after school program and are selected based on the season and schedule of Harvest of the Month.

Outside of traditional in-district school meals, the department also provides food for childcare programs, adult feeding programs, and a summer feeding program. The summer feeding program supplied 42,000 meals last summer. The program uses the same produce vendors as it uses during the school year.  VUSD also provides meals for county schools and caters functions.

One VUSD school is currently participating in the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. This school, Sheridan Way Elementary, has 518 students. The produce was sourced directly from farms or through the “Berry Man”, a local distributor who also sources directly from local farms and contrary to his name carries more than berries. Sheridan Way employs taste testing to encourage kids to try the new fruit and vegetable snacks and also has an agricultural literacy component to their educational program.

The department employs 8 full time managers, 17 part time managers, and 165 part time kitchen prep and serving staff.  No individual is specifically dedicated to fruit and vegetable preparation and serving.  All are trained and regularly involved.  There are also no staff members specifically dedicated to local buying since it is a regular duty of all purchasers. There are, however, additional staff whose duty is solely to promote food and nutrition education as well as garden-based education.

Menu planning

Menus are planned far in advance (12 months) and are based on a 5 week cycle.   There is very little deviation from the cycle menu. Menus are planed using a few different strategies including food based menu planning, nutrient standard menu planning, and SHAPE menu planning. “Offer vs. serve” is practiced so as to allow flexibility of choice for students eating at the salad bars.

The inclusion of salad bars is an integral part of the lunch offerings at every school in the district. In fact their presence is a factor in their selection of SHAPE menu planning, as it is unclear if food based menu planning would have an impact on their ability to utilize salad bars. Curwood is awaiting more direction from the USDA on this matter.

Using SHAPE menu planning, the presence of salad bars has not made menu planning more difficult. What is present on the salad bars is determined by seasonal availability on local farms and whatever is being featured through Harvest of the Month.  Prepackaged salads are not offered.  Salad bars have increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, based on the fact that schools need to buy more produce to meet the increased demands of higher meal participation.  Each day 8 vegetables are offered (4-6 fresh) and 3 fruits (2-3 fresh) on the salad bars. If an act of “mother nature” changes what is available, a back up vendor supplies the produce needed. Sufficient calorie counts are ensured by calculating them based on the menu items using their menu planning tools.

Themed menus are not generally planned, but there are certainly ethnic or cultural flavors on the menus. For example jicama and asian vegetables are offered, and dishes are prepared using methods and seasonings specific to different cultures.  Recipes are generally created by district staff. Seasonality and local availability are critical factors in what fruits and vegetables are included in the menus, with the exception of bananas and jicama which are procured from out of state. Food service staff consult local farmers, the farm bureau, and their produce vendors to determine what is available and when.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are served a la carte in middle and high school cafeterias only.

Sourcing/buying practices

USDA entitlement dollars are used primarily for “center of the plate” protein items such as meats, poultry, eggs and cheese.  Meat and poultry come generally in raw form, but some chicken does come cooked.   Whole grain dry pasta and canned fruits are also purchased.  Entitlement funds do not go toward the purchase of fresh fruit and vegetables.  A full 20% of the food budget does however go to the purchase of fresh produce. Half of the budget for fresh produce goes to The Berry Man produce vendor, while 30% pays farmers directly, and 20% goes to farmer collaboratives.  A small amount comes from school gardens.

Connection with local or regional foods

At VUSD, preference in purchasing is given first to “local” products which are considered to be grown within Ventura County, then to “regional” products from the tri-county area of Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties.  Finally, California grown items are purchased (exceptions are bananas and jicama).  Clearly VUSD has a great advantage by being found in Ventura County, which ranks 8th largest in farming economy in the state.  This is one reason why 75% of VUSD’s produce needs can be met by local farmers. Personal relationships have been developed with several farmers, which allows for trust and familiarity with their products. Some of the farmers the district works with include:

  • Join the Farm – carrots (100% of the district’s need is being met)
  • Fitzpatrick Farms – persimmons
  • Oviatt Farms – kiwis
  • Shore Farms – citrus
  • Timber Canyon – citrus
  • Churchill Orchards – pixie tangerines
  • Gopher Glen – apples

The potential benefits of working with local farmers is very clear to the leadership of VUSD Nutrition Services. These include supporting the local economy and community, and good public relations. Students also have greater access to fruits and vegetables and healthier diets, and understand the source of their food. Finally, the environmental impact is thought to be lower.

Practically all varieties of fruit are available and have been procured locally with only a few exceptions (cherries, blueberries, rhubarb, grapes, raspberries). Vegetables are also similarly widely available. The items not purchased essentially have a specific reason for not being, such as the prohibitive cost and preparation/serving logistics of artichokes, or vegetables that are less popular like parsnips and turnips.

When at all possible, Curwood and her staff plan to increase the amount of local produce, nuts/seeds, and eggs that they can procure. Meat and dairy, however, are not likely to be purchased from local ranchers or dairymen because it is not available.

Logistics and other practical factors can be discouraging to districts who want to set up or improve their Farm to School program.  Director Curwood pinpointed several ways in which she could be motivated to increase use of local/regional foods in her district.  At the government level, it would help to have new regulations to allow direct purchase from farmers using entitlement dollars, as well as financial incentives to purchase locally. District facilities would need to be retrofitted for fresh food preparation, and they would need funding to add more staff and train existing staff.

Finally, ease of communication with farmers would greatly facilitate local procurement.  This includes being able to order from one central place that does the direct communication with farmers rather than work with many individual farmers, and makes ordering, delivery and payment easier for buyers. It would be ideal if this central hub could also train the farmers on food safety and make assurances that they themselves prepare produce safely and sanitarily.  VUSD and others have also mentioned concern about cost, adequacy and reliability of produce supply.

Through the fall and winter seasons (September through February), VUSD orders more of the following whole produce items than any other produce items:

  • Watermelon
  • Nectarines
  • Persimmons
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Tangerines
  • Pears
  • Blood Oranges
  • Cucumbers
  • Kiwi
  • Tomatoes

From Spring to Summer (March to August), the following are the top 10 items ordered whole:

  • Strawberries
  • Nectarines
  • Tangerines
  • Grapes
  • Watermelon
  • Tomatoes
  • Snow
  • Peas
  • Oranges
  • Cucumbers

The top 10 minimally prepared or processed fresh fruit and vegetables purchased in Fall and Winter include:

  • Spring Mix
  • Carrot Sticks
  • Broccoli Florets
  • 4 way salad mix
  • Celery Sticks
  • Jicama Sticks
  • Baby Carrots
  • Ventura Mix

The top 10 minimally prepared or processed fresh fruit and vegetables purchased in Spring and Summer include:

  • Spring Mix
  • Carrot Sticks
  • Broccoli Florets
  • 4 way salad mix
  • Celery Sticks
  • Jicama Sticks
  • Carrots

Production and Serving

A conventional food production system is used for approximately 75% of fresh fruits and vegetables served in the district. The remainder is prepared in a commissary system, being distributed to satellite locations.  Approximately 60% of meals are made from scratch and 40% speed scratch (ie. commodity items that come processed in some way), A myriad of cooking methods are used by the district.  For example peppers, carrots, and celery are sauteed and stir-fried, while root vegetables are often roasted or baked.  Broccoli is often steamed when included in entrees.  Food – including fresh fruit and vegetables – is fully received, stored, and prepared at nearly all of the school sites (22 out of 25), with only 3 doing partial preparation due to being too small to financially support a full kitchen staff.  This is frankly the advantage to having older schools, since construction after the 70’s often eliminated full prep kitchens from building plans, for a time period. Fresh fruit is generally served whole (70%), while fresh vegetables are always cut up for serving. Both fresh fruit and fresh vegetables are generally served raw (85% and 80% respectively).

Storage areas are felt to be adequate, but prep areas are not.  Sinks, tables, and bins would be nice to have, as well as salad spinners, sectionizers, and produce washers. Serving areas are currently meeting school needs as well. Meals are served via trays through a serving line, via a salad bar, food wagons/carts, or window service.

Unneeded prepared foods are donated to food banks, added to compost bins, or disposed of in the trash or down sink garbage disposals.

VUSD follows seasonal availability in its ordering of fruit. Some vegetables are consumed year round – broccoli, carrots, celery, chili peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, spinach, while others are only seasonally procured such as snow peas, avocados, and cabbage.

Promotion and Marketing

Every year, Ventura USD Food and Nutrition Services puts out a calendar with student artwork displaying fresh fruit and vegetables. The art is collected through an annual contest whose promotion is also a way to get kids thinking about fruits and vegetables.  The calendar includes school menus, pricing information, and contact information. It also has recipes and tips on nutrition, gardening, and physical activity. All text is presented in both Spanish and English. Local produce is promoted differently through signage on the salad bar, in the cafeteria , on the menu calendar and in the parent and faculty newsletters. Other marketing vehicles include web based communications, community events, and newspaper releases.  A biannual newsletter called “Nutrition Connection” goes out to each classroom teacher and is also posted online.

At each school’s salad bar, a specific fruit or vegetable is spotlighted each month through “Harvest of the Month” recipes. Elementary school libraries feature a book whose theme fits the monthly selection.  For example when Peas were featured one April, the featured book was The Pea Blossom by Amy Poole and Hans Christian Anderson. Some classrooms engage in taste tests and recipe preparation in order to highlight that month’s produce item.

Student Preferences

Students prefer fresh fruit and vegetables first, then frozen and finally canned. Student taste tests are conducted before new fruits and vegetables are added to menus, and there is also a Student Nutrition Advisory Council that meets monthly at each site. These students participate in focus groups two to three times per year.  Curwood has observed that the serving of locally procured fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds has indeed increased consumption.

Farm to School

Ventura USD is a model for other Farm to School programs throughout the country for good reason. In addition to delicious school meals with produce from local growers, VUSD schools also have school gardens, in-class nutrition education, and farmer visits to the classroom. Some schools also have composting programs and the district has a waste management program with recycling at the district office and school sites. The district office has a large garden for student visits, staff stress reduction and teacher trainings.

Outside of VUSD staff, two organizations are assisting with Farm to School activities by promoting agricultural literacy.  Join the Farm, a local organic farm, and the Ventura County Resource Conservation District have developed a local produce education program.  In terms of online resources, district staff looks to the CA Farm to School Program for information related to Farm to School.

Funds for farm to school activities are essentially folded into the general operating budget of the Food and Nutrition Services Department. The department does not get any funding from district general funds. Revenue earned from school meals covers the cost of buying local, training staff on issues related to fresh produce preparation, etc. Network for a Healthy California, however, does support eight schools with a nutrition educator who works closely with other district staff including a Teacher Specialist who emphasizes gardening.  The work encompassed by these two staff members is called the “Healthy Schools Project” and has been active for 8 years.  Information for teachers, cafeteria staff and any others who are interested the Healthy Schools Project is available on the district’s website www.venturausd.org.

At the Network supported schools, Nutrition Educators visit all classrooms of a particular grade each month to work with the children to make a recipe with that month’s vegetable. K-2 classes at these schools also take part in HOM taste testing each month.  At all schools, nutrition education is incorporated into the classroom, cafeteria, school garden, and more. Each month the cafeteria salad bar features a recipe with the Harvest of the Month fruit or vegetable. A cooking cart is stocked and delivered by district staff so that teachers can cook with their classes if they reserve the cart. The school library showcases a book related to the Harvest of the Month selection. Classroom teachers have access to nutrition and garden-based lessons that incorporate core curriculum standards, and teachers can invite a farmer to speak with their students about their careers. The district offers trainings for teachers each year on how to bring in nutrition and garden based lessons into their classes.  Health and science classes in the middle and high schools provide nutrition education as well.

VUSD leadership is well aware of USDA funded resources available to their schools and makes many efforts to take advantage of them. These include First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, free Team Nutrition resources for schools, and Network for a Healthy California resources.

Summary

Ventura USD’s Farm to School program started simply when one farmer, one parent, one board member discovered a common desire to improve school food and establish a stronger connection with local farmers. Now, VUSD Food and Nutrition Services is a national leader in Farm to School Programs.  They have figured out how to make school food service profitable, healthy, supportive of local economies, and educational.  The department takes advantage of local, state, and federal resources to bring healthier food options to children and teach them about eating in a context that is clearly close to home.  Not only are students making healthier choices, they are learning how to connect their foods consumed to the local farmers who grew it, as well as the nutritional benefits of this produce.  Students are excited to learn about growing produce, seasonality and where these farmers are.

It wasn’t always easy though and the district still struggles with barriers and challenges including soliciting staff motivation to promote the Farm to School program in the classroom. This need for buy-in extends from the classroom to the district boardroom. More funding is forever needed, as well as increasing the skill set of cafeteria staff. It would be helpful to have more community support, as well as more local farmers willing to work with the district – simply getting the produce from the farm to the schools presents logistical dilemmas challenging enough to stymie the whole process.  Ways to overcome some of the barriers listed above include offering more training, having a greater presence at school sites, and hiring key personnel including a district chef, registered dietitian and district garden coordinator.

In the true sense of “the more, the merrier”, VUSD Director Sandy Curwood encourages other school districts to start Farm to School programs with some sage advice based on years of her own experience.  Start small and solicit buy-in from the superintendent and board. Gather and nurture supportive voices from as many corners as possible. Train staff on options for nutrition education including how to conduct taste tests with kids and how to present produce in appealing and attractive ways.  And finally get to know your area farmers, as they feed the future.

Fort Bragg

1900 students in 7 schools (3 elementary, 2 middle, 2 high school). 1435 meals served daily, 579 at breakfast and  856 at lunch.

68% free and reduced meal eligibility rate for district.

Food prep takes place at each school site.  The kitchen staff are very supportive and excited about using the food from the school gardens.

Because of remoteness of the district and lack of local produce growers they rely mostly on a broadliner and a produce distributor with only 2% from local sources. Nutrition Services purchases produce from well developed school and community garden programs. Additionally they purchase and serve snacks of organic produce through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

Numerous coordinated collaborators for web of support. These are school teachers, FFVP, Network for Healthy California educators, after-school programs, ROP classes in horticulture, local non-profits, parent groups, county school offices, supportive school board, and master gardeners.

General Information

Remotely located on the Mendocino Coast of Northern California, Ft Bragg is making great strides in farm to school programming. Ft Bragg Unified School District (FBUSD) Nutrition Services (FBNS) serves 1,435 daily meals (579 breakfast, 856 lunch) to a total population of 1,900 students in the district. There are seven K-12 schools:  three elementary, two middle, and two high schools. Redwood Elementary is a Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) school and 470 students are served organic produce purchased through a locally owned market.

Nutrition Services is directed by Pilar Gray. She estimates that 16% of her $833,152 budget is spent on fresh fruits and vegetables. 68% of the district’s students are eligible for free or reduced meals.

Due to the remote location of Ft Bragg and the lack of farms that grow produce FBNS has limited potential to source from local farms. Through community partnerships and a strong garden enhanced nutrition education program FBNS is improving the wellness of its students.

Menu Planning and Salad Bars

FBNS maintains a flexible menu planning system that utilizes offer versus serve. Menus are planned month to month with variations incorporated to include fresh fruits and vegetables. Salad bars have been removed due to food safety and food waste issues. Alternatively salads are made on site as servings or prepackaged. Fresh fruits and vegetables are offered as ala carte items in all grade levels and are offered for free or at low cost.

Sourcing/Buying Practices

FBNS uses entitlement dollars to purchase healthy products and at times purchases fresh fruits and vegetables via DoD Fresh. Pilar wishes DoD Fresh would provide more whole grain products, brown rice, less processed cheese, and have more consistent supply and delivery of fresh produce.

Due to the remote location of their district FBNS relies mostly on a broadliner and a produce distributor (General Produce). Pilar estimates that only 2% of her produce comes from local producers. Her purchasing preference is from the Northern California region. Most farms in her area are involved with growing cash crops for export. The few produce growers in her market their crops through higher return arrangements such as farmers markets and tourist restaurants. The locally grown produce FBNS purchases come from school/community gardens, direct from growers, and at times from distributors.

The FFVP sources organic produce from a local grocery store.

Production and Serving

Pilar describes her facilities for prepping and serving produce as adequate but mentions that more cold storage would be helpful. Desired equipment list for produce preparation and storage is: steamers, tilt woks, and pass-throughs.

About 20% of FBNS cut produce is purchased pre cut. 95% of their fresh fruits are served raw, 75% of their vegetables are served raw. When cooking fruits and vegetables FBNS uses the following methods: stir-fry, baking, and steaming.

Promotion and Marketing

FBNS promotes Harvest of the Month, fresh fruits and vegetables and farm to school in various means including:

  • Web-based communications
  • School menus
  • School newsletters
  • Community newsletters
  • Newspaper releases
  • Radio releases
  • Open house
  • Back to school night
  • Themed festivals
  • Community events

Fruits and vegetables are promoted via print displays in cafeterias and in school hallways.

Student Preferences

As stated in the survey FBNS students prefer fresh fruits and vegetables. With promotion and education FBNS has observed an increase in the consumption of local fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

Farm to School

FBNS has a strong garden enhanced nutrition component to their farm to school programming. Pilar believes this programming is central to the wellness of her students.

As with many strong farm to school programs, community involvement is crucial. FBNS relies on the following collaborators to bring about a culture of wellness in their schools:

  • Parent groups
  • Teachers – elementary student visit garden weekly, involved with HOTM in the class, participate in FFVP by picking up fruits and veggies from cafeteria
  • Food service staff – cook with school garden grown produce
  • Garden enhanced nutrition educators from the Network for a Healthy California – do great work
  • After school programs that teach nutrition
  • Master gardeners
  • ROP training in horticulture for high school students
  • Supportive school board
  • County health offices
  • Non-profits – Noyo Food Forest supports community food production

The above mentioned partners help to provide wellness education in the following places:

  • Garden-based nutrition education classes
  • School plays
  • After school programming
  • Cafeteria
  • School wide events
  • Fresh fruit bowls in main office and “time out” discipline room

Funding for farm to school type programming comes from various sources and FBNS is looking to find more funding to sustain the work they do. Currently, funding comes in part from the following:

  • Foodservice account
  • District general fund (%18)
  • Parent groups
  • Federal grants
  • State grants (FFVP)
  • Local government
  • Network for a Healthy California

Summary

Strong community support/partnerships, great Network for a Healthy California staff (2), supportive food service and school administration, and a food service director that is interested in creating wellness all work towards creating a healthy school environment.

Sonoma Valley Unified School District

SVUSD serves approximately 1,215 breakfasts and 2,100 lunches per day to 4,310 students in eight schools. Five of the schools have populations where 50% of their students are eligible for free and reduced price meals. 57% of the total population is eligible for free and reduced priced meals.

SVUSD provides free fruit in all elementary school sites.

A Harvest of the Month program is ran by their food service director. Produce sampling baskets are distributed to all elementary school sites and Harvest of the Month is featured in the menu.

School gardens are present in all school sites which benefit from district wide garden support staff. The local education foundation and other community partners help fund the garden projects.

SVUSD has kitchen facilities at school sites where meal production takes place. Salad bars operate in two of their school sites with plans for expansion.

Project Overview

With an Education Foundation supporting gardens in every school, forward thinking administrators, and a food service director that believes all kids should have access to free fruit Sonoma Valley Unified School District is enhancing wellness for their students.

General Information

Under the direction of Food Service Program Manager Donna Luzzi, Sonoma Valley Unified School District’s Food Service (SVUSDFS) serves approximately 1,215 breakfasts and 2,100 lunches per day. The district is made up of 4,310 students in eight schools. The five elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school all have garden programs. Five of the schools have populations where 50% of their students are eligible for free and reduced priced meals. 57% of the total population is eligible for free and reduced priced meals.

Food Service Operations

The total food service budget is $1,432,000 of which about 4% of the total budget is allocated to purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables. Each school site has functional kitchens and food is prepared at the school sites. Menu planning is done one month in advance and uses an enhanced food-based menu planning system which varies by grade level. Offer vs. serve is utilized. Two of the eight schools have salad/produce bars with plans to expand. Packaged salads are offered in both the middle schools and high school.

Donna has a great staff who understand their student’s preferences and adjust appropriately. At each elementary school fruit baskets offer free fruit to all students, this is done because Donna values this. The school sites say it is very popular with their students.

Sourcing and Buying Practices

One hundred percent of SVUSDFS Produce comes from a nearby produce distributor in Santa Rosa. Entitlement is used primarily to purchase:

  • Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Grains and pasta
  • Meats and poultry

SVUSDFS does not order through DOD Fresh.

Milk products come via the local dairy Clover-Stornetta and one third of the milk purchased is organic. Local bakeries are also contracted to provide bagels and other breads.

Fresh produce is offered throughout the year and includes: apples, kiwi, bananas, oranges, grapes, pears, plum, watermelon, strawberries, nectarines, peaches, tomatoes, bell peppers, and spinach.

Minimally processed or pre-cut produce ordered includes: salad mix, carrotinis, broccoli, spring mix, romaine leaves, jicama sticks, carrot sticks, and cauliflower.

Production and Serving

All food is prepared or heated or assembled in each school kitchen. Production systems are defined as conventional and speed scratch. When cooking vegetables, steaming is the preferred method. Each kitchen site receives, stores, and preps their own produce and for the most part there is adequate space to prepare fruits and vegetables. Donna mentions that increased cold storage would be beneficial at most sites. Additionally salad/produce bars are only situated in two of the eight sites, but there are plans for more sites to receive salad bars.

Student Preferences

Donna perceives her students preference for fruits and vegetables in the following order: 1- fresh, 2- canned, and lastly frozen.

Promotion and Marketing

SVUSDFS uses Harvest of the Month promotional materials on menus, school newsletters, and at back to school nights.  Elementary grades receive Harvest of the Month tasting kits that are created by Donna herself. These kits are distributed to school sites with class sets of fruit, cutting board, and knife. Harvest of the Month literature is included for the teacher as well. The fruit being sampled in the classroom is offered in the cafeteria as well.

SVUSDFS has conducted surveys on preferences of menu items and has offered taste tests before serving new items. These efforts have had positive effects as food service staff  have noted that kids are more receptive to new fruits after Harvest of the Month tastings in the classroom.

Farm to School and School Gardens

SVUSDFS does not specifically market or promote a Farm to School program. All produce is purchased through one distributor who does purchase from California but there is no defined region for local purchasing.

Where SVUSDFS stands apart from other districts in the state is the number and quality of their school garden programs. Every school in the district has a school garden. With the support of the Education Foundation and community donors the district has a district wide school garden program director to support school garden efforts and paid stipends for school site coordinators.  Plans are to integrate these gardens into secondary grade culinary arts programs, school grounds landscaping plant production, and cut flower business serving local restaurants.

Summary

With strong community support of school gardens, a progressive and supportive district administration, and a Food Service Program Manager who makes it possible to offer free fruit and Harvest of the Month tasting baskets in her schools Sonoma Valley Unified School District Food Service is serving up elements that contribute to student wellness.

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