Thursday, May 26, 2011

School Officials Like Buying Local Produce

Check out this article in the Capital Press about a recent Farm-to-School Mobile Tour and workshop for farmers and school food service staff.

Official: Students eager to eat local veggies


Capital Press

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Wenatchee School District buys about 20 percent of its produce for school lunches directly from local farms, and its food services director says it's a good way to meet new federal criteria for more fruits and vegetables.

Kent Getzin said he increased local buying for better quality, improved student nutrition and to support local farms.

Students are educated about what grows locally, said Vicki Kelley, Getzin's secretary.

Last fall, Kelley helped high school kitchen staff get students to sample about a dozen heirloom varieties of tomatoes in school hallways.

"We set up tables and sliced all these goofy looking tomatoes and encouraged kids to try them," she said.

"Some would say, 'I don't like tomatoes,' and I would say, 'You should try this one. It's lower in acid and a little sweeter,'" she said.

Students liked the tomatoes, she said.

The district began buying apples from local fruit giant Stemilt Growers Inc. 12 years ago but buys from several area farms now and places orders before the growing season.

"We get great variety," Getzin said.

The district buys most of its local produce in the fall, but it buys potatoes, winter squash and apples year-round. Suppliers include Cloud View Eco Farms in Royal City, Smithson Ranch and T&T Farms near Wenatchee and Yaksum Canyon Truck Farm near Peshastin.

"The Wenatchee School District is way ahead of the curve on this," Getzin said, noting the buy-local concept appears new to other school food service directors.

Getzin was among 28 school food service directors and 10 farmers who visited Cloud View and Tonnemaker Farms near Royal City on May 18. Getzin showed the group how to make a red Thai curry and stir-fried vegetables at lunch time at Wahluke High School in Mattawa.

The event was sponsored by the state Department of Agriculture's Farm-to-School Program to connect farmers and school food service directors. The 4-year-old program has hosted several such events and holds one in Spokane on June 13.

"I showed them how easy it is to incorporate fresh foods into lunches and a couple of the directors said, 'I think we can do this,'" Getzin said.

Farmers were enthusiastic and included a grass-fed beef producer from Ellensburg and a squash farmer from Whidbey Island, he said.

Joan Qazi, a Wenatchee buy-local promoter, organized similar networking a year ago that prompted Getzin to buy more local produce.

Wenatchee School District serves more than 1 million lunches a year, about 6,000 students a day and spends about $100,000 annually on produce.

It's "marginally more expensive" to buy local produce and takes some initial extra logistical effort, but it means high-quality produce and supporting local farmers, Getzin said.

The recently reauthorized Child Nutrition Act requires schools to increase the servings of fruits and vegetables, he said.

"We get comments almost daily about our vegetables. They (the students) love them," said Jan Hanson, Wenatchee High School food service manager.

"The first time we served asparagus, we prepared 10 pounds and probably threw away eight," she said. "Then I coaxed them to try it and they found out how good it is. Now we serve 27 pounds."

It tastes great with her lemon pepper, olive oil and garlic seasoning, she said.