Written by: Lauren Valentino, FoodCorps Service Member with Sierra Harvest
*Originally posted on Sierra Harvest’s website.
If you were tasked with redefining school lunch in California, where would you begin? Nevada County based non-profit Sierra Harvest and the Food Service Directors from Nevada Joint Union, Grass Valley and Twin Ridges School Districts have made notable achievements in procuring locally grown specialty vegetables, placing salad bars in the lunch lines, removing soda machines, and replacing some processed foods with scratch-cooked meals. None of these improvements happened over night; in fact, changing the face of school food in Nevada County has been a work in progress for years requiring a great deal of determination. This Spring, efforts to increase the fresh, local, food offered in school meals will be significantly expanded through an innovative state-wide campaign with one simple mission: to serve kids healthy meals made with California grown ingredients on Thursdays. The California Thursdays initiative was piloted in 2013 by The Center for Ecoliteracy and 58 school districts have since adopted the program, representing over 283 million meals per year, or 31% of the meals served in California. The Center for Ecoliteracy explains that “serving freshly prepared meals from California grown food supports student health and academic achievement and helps kids learn where their food comes from. Buying locally creates jobs and boosts local economies. And it’s good for the environment, because food travels less and needs less packaging.” These ideas may read as common sense to some, but K-12 schools in California have been largely left out of the thriving farm to table movement California is famous for. A program like California Thursdays offers schools a viable way to participate.
During an extremely well organized and dynamic training hosted by The Center for Ecoliteracy, participating school districts readily see the feasibility of sourcing locally or regionally grown foods on a regular basis. An expanding statewide network of 58 school districts are already creating high demand for California grown produce and food distributors that have not previously been held accountable for where their products come from are quickly adapting to this trend. Participants also receive resources like simple, delicious, and kid approved healthy recipes as well as compelling marketing materials to successfully launch the program in their own school districts.
Sierra Harvest’s Co-Director, Aimee Retzler, and FoodCorps Service Member, Lauren Valentino, attended the annual training in San Diego for California Thursdays earlier this month along with NJUHSD Food Service Director, Theresa Ruiz, GVSD Nutrition Services Director Suzanne Grass and Food Service Staff member Melissa Bentley. California Thursdays will launch this Spring in select Nevada County Schools. Joining California Thursdays means getting on board with a vibrant network of schools and organizations who see a positive future for school food: one that’s healthy for kids, the environment and our local economy.
About the Author: Lauren Valentino earned a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and also spent time studying organic horticulture at College of Marin which led her to her continued work in agriculture and education. She also holds a permaculture design certificate from the Regenerative Design Institute.
Sierra Harvest is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and connecting western Nevada County’s families to fresh, local, seasonal foods. We accomplish this by; offering farm to school programming, supporting farm fresh school meals, mentoring aspiring farmers and gardeners, celebrating our local food community and advocating for just, sustainable food systems. To learn more about the organization, please visit their website.
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. To find out more, please visit their website.