Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More on School Gardens - with advice and links!

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is also looking at school gardens this week. Elizabeth Lee's article, "Schools plant gardens to sprout healthy eaters," looks at the usefulness of school gardens as classrooms for math, science and other traditional school subjects, while also teaching nutrition, self-esteem and more adventurous eating. The article acknowledges the challenges that garden season doesn't match well with school season (though here in the Pacific Northwest, much can be grown year-round), and that school gardens can be dependent on a single enthusiastic teacher or parent, but suggests that better integration into the larger curriculum can provide staying power.

Suggestions for school garden work, and links to other resources, are provided at the end of the article.

School Gardens in the Other Washington

One of my favorite websites on food issues is The Ethicurean: Chew the Right Thing. They have a regular news digest on food and ethics issues, as well as general articles from contributors around the country, all with a focus on eating locally. Yesterday's article, "The plot quickens: The Children’s Studio School Garden in DC," was about school gardens in Washignton, DC. In addition to a specific profile of Ed Bruske and his work at The Children's Studio School, it includes a link to a piece about DC School Gardens Week.

A School Gardens Week, declared official by a mayor, city council,or County official, may provide a good focal point for school garden campaigns. It's a way to highlight school garden work and it's importance in educating youth, while spreading information about the needs for funding, space, staffing and curriculum links to gardens.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

More News on the Home Front

Jennifer Langston of the Seattle P-I continues to report on local food issues and school food improvement with the latest article, Better cafeteria offerings pushed by middle schoolers.

Orca Middle School has been one of the most active in Seattle in work on school gardens and school food options. Tiana Colovos, who you may have met at F2S Connections meetings, is quoted in the article: "We've made inroads with the snacks and nutrition education, but crossing that threshold into the cafeteria is like a brick wall." There are lots of reasons for this, as have been explored in earlier articles, but Orca may be on the right path with students themselves now getting involved in the campaign. They're also in a better position to approach the issue, now that they have an on-site kitchen! Learn more in the article.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Vote with Your Lunch Money

Deborah Kane, Vice President at Food and Farms at EcoTrust, and a mom (among other credentials), published an article called BACK TO SCHOOL: VOTING WITH YOUR LUNCH MONEY on the Edible Portland blog. The article is a really informative interview with Kristy Obbink,Portland Public Schools (PPS) Nutrition Services Director, on her project of including more local food in Portland schools. Obbink's goals are ambitious, and her dedication admirable. The article details specific projects, like trying to sell kids a custom-ordered high-fiber fruit bar from local processors when there's a competing sweetened and highly packaged option, but also talks a bit of philosophy. Here's a particularly cool quote:

“Increasingly, we’re taking a more holistic approach to nutrition. PPS recognizes its role in informing children about the impact of their food choices not just on their personal health, but also on the health of the broader community. That means we’re incorporating social and environmental dimensions into our definition of healthy, nutritious foods.”

An important point in the article is the need for parents to choose to buy school lunches, particularly on days or meals when local or healthier ingredients are highlighted--such higher levels of participation not only provides evidence that the changes pay off (which can leverage greater change in the future), it also provides more money for the schools to work with. And every school nutrition director I've ever spoken to is excited about the possibilities for local fresh food in schools, if only they had more money.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

King County Schools and Local Foods

A group of King County Child Nutrition Directors recently released a press release about their work providing local foods to students. We applaud them for the work they are doing and hope to support them in overcoming the challenges to increasing local foods on their menus. Here's the press release in pdf form: "King County Schools Seize Opportunities to Serve Local Foods"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

National School Lunch-In This Week

Two Angry Moms, a pair of, well, angry moms, in Connecticut have a blog/website about their continued efforts to improve school lunches. They've named this week The Two Angry Moms National School Lunch-In:

The Two Angry Moms National School Lunch-In will run from October 15th
- 19th. It will be held concurrently with the School Nutrition Association's
(SNA) annual National School Lunch Week and follows the USDA
guideline suggesting that every parent should go to school and have lunch
with their child.

Here's what they recommend:
While you're there read more than the menu.
• Ask to see a list of ingredients for every item in the cafeteria.
• Read labels, check out what's in the vending machines.
• Don't be fooled by health claims and "low calorie" branding. How
much of the food being served is real food and how much of it
includes flavorings, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, binders and
unpronounceable ingredients?
• Find out from your child if this is normal fare or if the school is
sprucing things up to make a good impression for your visit.
• More tips of what to do/look for while you are visiting for lunch: Kate
Adamick - Searching For Food In The School Cafeteria, Better
School Food – Lunch In Check List
Ask yourself how healthy you would be if you ate this food as your primary

They then suggest that you ask your school board for school wellness policies that require healthy food, and report back to them.

Note that this is about quality food, not necessarily farm-to-school, but you could easily add your own questions about the sourcing of the food if you're interested in how far the food travelled and how it was produced.

Carrot Coins in NY

Local Carrots with a Side of Red Tape - Kim Severson of the New York Times writes of how even the relatively experienced New York State Farm to School folks face challenges with each new addition to the program. Her article highlights the amount of creativity and commitment required for the seemingly simple task of buying carrots from local farms for local kids to eat. Testing product and adjusting expectations or redesigning "standard products" like baby carrots (into "carrot coins" in this case) takes time, energy, money and a strong will to make it work! Note also the discussion of risks to the farmers, who sometimes need to plant new varieties and invest in equipment in order to successfully reach the large school markets.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Big Local News Story on Farm to School!

Farmed Out, Jennifer Langston's series of articles about Farm to School in the Seattle area, is on the cover of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (yesterday and today)! The series can be found at http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/specials/farmtoschool/. Please spread the word about these articles--they are well-researched and examine the specific issues in our region.

Living Food: Link farm, school. It's a big news day for Farm to School! There's also an editorial in the P-I with a reference to current legislative efforts:

"Environmental groups and others say they will push the Legislature to authorize more efforts. Mo McBroom of the Washington Environmental Council noted, "This is something that people care about, that parents care about, that the governor cares about, that farmers care about. Why are we behind on this?"

Come to the Farm to School Connections Team Meeting on Monday, October 22nd, to hear more about Washington Environmental Council's work on legislation for farm to school and institutions!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Farm to School Success Story from Oregon

Sheila G. Miller's article in The Bulletin in Bend, Oregon profiles a successful farm to school project at Bend-La Pine School District in Oregon that incorporates organic produce from local farms into lunches. The story is inspiring, and includes some interesting specifics.

In responding to price concerns about organic, Wellness Specialist Katrina Wiest, who iniated the program says:

"It’s not more expensive,” Wiest said. “They meet or beat the wholesale prices, because we’re taking out the middle man. It’s going from the grower direct to the table. Usually it would go from the grower to the shipper, then to a distributor and then to the table.”

Another section of the article talks about the kinds of nutrition standards the district is using:

"And, the district strives to lower the calorie and fat content in meals as well, using brown rice, hot dogs made of turkey and corn dogs with chicken meat. The district even makes a low-fat ranch sauce that students use as veggie dip. All of the meals served in Bend-La Pine Schools are made up of no more than 30 percent fat, 10 percent saturated fat and 1,200 milligrams of sodium."

Since federal school nutrition standards do not specify amounts of fats and sodium, nor whole grains, such decisions on the part of school districts are going beyond the requirements for the sake of children's health. (Note: some similar measures, at least in terms of adding more whole grains and brown rice, are happening in the Seattle School District and others in our area)

The article does not go into details about the necessary funding and personnel change that may have gone into the program, but it does represent a success story in a small school district that's worth checking out.

Monday, October 8, 2007

National Policy also Affects F2S

10/4/07 - KQED Quest radio piece by Lauren Sommer about the challenge of getting healthy food into schools, and how it is influenced by the federal Farm Bill. Those interviewed specifically address concerns that the current Farm Bill measures do not support the nutritional guidelines now being given to Americans. (Includes a brief interview with Ann Cooper of the Berkeley School District)

If You Build It, Will They Come?

UK's Ofsted report reveals (among other interesting findings) that school children are not immediately won over to healthier, fresher recipes in British schools. The report provides insight into student response to school meal reform in Britain. It also looks at non-lunch foods like breakfast programs and vending machines, and addresses such things as free lunch stigma, the eating environment and social uses of lunchtime, and healthy eating curriculum changes. (Guardian article; Ofsted Report)

Shared Challenges

10/6/07 - Karen Herzog at the Milwaukee Sentinel talks about local purchasing in Mt. Horeb School District in Wisconsin. The article notes challenges that also affect our Pacific NW school districts: cost, adequate supply, and staff time and skill required to process fresh fruits and vegetables, but it also highlights the benefits of introducing kids to a range of fresh foods.

From Before the Birth of the Digest

9/6/07 - School Lunch Abroad - Culinate.com writer Deborah Madison tells an inspiring tale of visiting school lunchrooms in France's Loire Valley on a trip with the International Exchange Forum on Children, Obesity, Food Choice, and the Environment. Ms. Madison describes not only quality food and nutritious lunches, but also the pleasant eating environment and family-style service at the schools. Be sure to take a look at the comments at the end of her article--it's often where the interesting questions arise!

5/22/07 - Grow Montana reports on passage of a Montana Senate Bill that allows flexibility for direct purchase of local food product for institutions when it meets certain criteria for price and quality.