Thursday, January 26, 2012

Growing to school: Students taste success with local food program

Growing to school: Students taste success with local food program

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Taste Washington Day at Wenatchee High School last fall allowed local growers to tout the quality and value of their produce to teen consumers.


• The Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network:

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.


Wenatchee High School students passed out locally grown fruits and vegetables to elementary school students on Taste Washington Day in late September.

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.

USDA Unveils Historic Improvements to Meals Served in America's Schools

USDA Unveils Historic Improvements to Meals Served in America’s Schools

New Standards Will Improve the Health and Wellbeing of 32 Million Kids Nationwide

FAIRFAX, Va., Jan. 25. 2012 – First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today unveiled new standards for school meals that will result in healthier meals for kids across the nation. The new meal requirements will raise standards for the first time in more than fifteen years and improve the health and nutrition of nearly 32 million kids that participate in school meal programs every school day. The healthier meal requirements are a key component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was championed by the First Lady as part of her Let’s Move! campaign and signed into law by President Obama.

“As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “And when we’re putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home. We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables.”

“Improving the quality of the school meals is a critical step in building a healthy future for our kids,” said Vilsack. “When it comes to our children, we must do everything possible to provide them the nutrition they need to be healthy, active and ready to face the future – today we take an important step towards that goal.”

The final standards make the same kinds of practical changes that many parents are already encouraging at home, including:

  • Ensuring students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week; • Substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods;
  • Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties;
  • Limiting calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size; and
  • Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.

A sample lunch menu with a before and after comparison is available to view and download in PDF and JPG formats.

USDA built the new rule around recommendations from a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine —a gold standard for evidence-based health analysis. The standards were also updated with key changes from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans – the Federal government’s benchmark for nutrition – and aimed to foster the kind of healthy changes at school that many parents are already trying to encourage at home, such as making sure that kids are offered both fruits and vegetables each day, more whole grains, and portion sizes and calorie counts designed to maintain a healthy weight.

USDA received an unprecedented 132,000 public comments on its proposed standards (available on the web at – and made modifications to the proposed rule where appropriate. USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said: “We know that robust public input is essential to developing successful standards and the final standards took a number of suggestions from stakeholders, school food service professions and parents to make important operational changes while maintaining nutritional integrity.”

The new standards are expected to cost $3.2 billion over the next five years -- less than half of the estimated cost of the proposed rule and are just one of five major components of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, now implemented or under development, that will work together to reform school nutrition. In addition to the updated meal standards, unprecedented improvements to come include:

  • The ability to take nutrition standards beyond the lunchline for the first time ever, foods and beverages sold in vending machines and other venues on school campuses will also contribute to a healthy diet;
  • Increased funding for schools – an additional 6 cents a meal is the first real increase in 30 years – tied to strong performance in serving improved meals;
  • Common-sense pricing standards for schools to ensure that revenues from non-Federal sources keep pace with the Federal commitment to healthy school meals and properly align with costs; and
  • Training and technical assistance to help schools achieve and monitor compliance.

The final nutrition standards released today also provide more time for schools to implement key changes, which will be largely phased in over a three-year period, starting in School Year 2012-2013. For example, schools will be permitted to focus on changes in the lunches in the first year, with most changes in breakfast phased in during future years.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs including the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, the Summer Food Service Program, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Together these programs make up the federal nutrition safety net.