Thursday, January 19, 2012
ON THE WEB
• The Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network: wsffn.org
Fresh Food in Schools is a three-year project which aims to increase the amount of public school food budget dollars spent on Washington grown produce, and to build meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships between school food programs and local farmers.
Twenty school districts across the state have been selected to participate in this project in order to create or enhance a farm-to-school program. Within North Central Washington, the school districts selected are Oroville, Tonasket and Wenatchee.
An example of community success related to this project is Taste Washington Day, which took place last year on Sept. 28.
On Taste Washington Day, school meals feature locally grown fruits, grains and vegetables, and provide activities for students to learn about the farms that feed them. The lunch menu in Wenatchee schools included tomato, black bean and cabbage salsa along with carrot “coins” and cucumber “wheels” — all fresh produce grown by Cloudview Ecofarms near Vantage.
Students sampled freshly picked fruits from Smithson Ranch in Peshastin at a mini-farmers market set up at Foothills Middle School. Wenatchee High School FFA students and ASB leadership students visited elementary schools to tell kids that a pluot is a plum-apricot and show them what a carrot straight from the ground looks like (complete with greens). The high school students tried to convey the importance of eating nutritious fruits and vegetables as well as the importance of our agricultural heritage.
Wenatchee schools have been sourcing locally grown fruits and vegetables directly from a number of regional farms over the past year. In fact, Jan Hanson the kitchen manager at Wenatchee High School, says “Everyday is Taste Washington Day in Wenatchee schools,” because schools here are prioritizing locally grown produce.
In the first three weeks of the current school year, Jan’s kitchen bought over 2,000 pounds of produce directly from local farmers rather than relying solely on Food Service of America’s products.
The development of farm-to-school programs in the region has mostly grown from the efforts of individual champions within school or farming communities and timely connections with other collaborators. For example, farmer Albert Roberts of Slow Food Okanogan organized a meeting with the Tonasket superintendent, school board members and the food service director who manages school meals for Oroville, Tonasket and Omak districts. This meeting helped spark a series of discussions in the schools, in community meetings and at the Okanogan Farmers Market to find ways to address the particular challenges related to high insurance liability and GAP (good agricultural practices) certification required for farmers by the schools’ food management company. These barriers remain at this time, but the schools are very enthusiastic to support local farms while improving student access to fresh, minimally processed foods.
The success of Taste Washington Day and the planned harvest of the month programs that turn cafeterias into classrooms inspire us to find the ‘win-win’ community solution. When students can put a face on their food and that food tastes good as well, then they are more likely to eat the half a plate of fruits and vegetables that they should to maintain optimal health and combat the recent tripling of childhood obesity.
Fresh Food in Schools is a project of The Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network and is funded by WSDA through a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, the Washington Women’s Foundation, the Whatcom Community Foundation’s Sustainable Whatcom Farm 2 School Fund and private individual donations.
Joan Qazi is regional coordinator for the Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network.