Farm-Fresh Foods Available in Schools
By Gus Howe Johnson
How can we get more fresh, healthy food into our children every day?
Students at Orange Southwest Supervisory Union schools will notice some changes this school year, because the foodservice managers at RUHS and Randolph, Brookfield and Braintree elementary schools have been working with local farmers to find locally grown produce for the school lunch program.
Patty Schroeder, Food Service Director at RUHS, has played a huge role in organizing the effort.
"This is taking a lot of coordinating, but it is worth it if we get one more student to decide to eat a healthy snack or meal," she explained.
There has been a lot of local interest in the concept of offering locally grown produce in schools. The Good Food Direct committee, a collaboration of foodservice managers, farmers, and Randolph Area Family Farms, started meeting last spring. It hopes this project could be a stepping stone to a larger, more regional effort in the future.
Jenn Colby, coordinator for Randolph Area Family Farms, is coordinating the sourcing of food.
"I post the schools' produce needs to the farmers, who respond with which portion of the "order" they can fill," she said. "They harvest over the weekend and deliver to RUHS Monday for storage in large coolers." Jerry Sullivan, director of the RAVC Culinary Arts program, will oversee the preparation of the produce by culinary arts students. The food will be divided among the elementary schools for the week, according to their needs.
Food needs not met with local produce will be ordered through wholesale markets.
"We are thrilled with the progress we've made," Colby said, "and are looking forward to the first week of school as a trial run.
"There are so many different partners interested and excited, it makes this process much easier to organize."
Kyle Jones and Jennifer Megyesi of Fat Rooster Farm in South Royalton are among the farmers participating in "Good Food Direct." Having raised certified organic vegetables, eggs and meats for three years, they also produce honey and syrup, selling from the farm or to co-ops and farmers markets.
"We're always looking for ways to get people more involved in our farm and this is an excellent way to get fresh produce into schools," Jones said. "We're excited about growing food for local students, hopefully increasing their knowledge of where their food comes from, and most importantly making them realize how good fresh food can taste."
As a celebration, the schools are collaborating on a "locally grown produce meal," to be offered at all four schools on the first Thursday of each month. The September meal, featuring as much locally grown produce as possible, will be offered during the first week of school.
The menu includes garden gazpacho, turkey-salad pita pockets, cucumber and carrot sticks with herbed yogurt dip, and chocolate beet cake.
"One way to get people, including children, to try something new is to introduce it in a fun way," Schroeder said. "This chocolate cake tastes really good, and it's made out of beets which are very high in vitamins."
The menu for the October and November meals will depend on which produce is being harvested.
One of the main reasons for this effort is to improve the quality of food from the source. Schroeder explained that while food purchased wholesale is technically safe and nutritious, some comes from third world countries that don't have the same health, safety, cleanliness and chemical standards as we have.
"Local farmers take more care with growing and harvesting their produce because their name is on it," she said. "They are more interested in quality control.
"In addition, the closer you can get something 'to the vine' the higher the nutrition content is, because vitamins are naturally lost over time."
While buying produce locally may cost a bit more, local money stays in the local area.
"Over the past two years we've seen a huge increase in the price of food we purchase wholesale from California, Texas or Mexico," Schroeder said. "For instance, we saw a 5-10% increase during the 2003-2004 school year alone in the food we purchased. And much of that money is simply for transportation.
"Given this trend, there is a minimal difference in cost between buying local and buying wholesale, but a huge difference in nutrition and education value."
Coincidentally, this year RUHS is adjusting its meal prices to have all meal choices be the same price. In the past, meal prices were graduated, with salad bar being the most expensive choice at $2.25, and main meal, which includes more carbohydrates, the least expensive at $1.75. This year the pricing has been evened out, so that every meal is $2.25.
"Meal prices at RUHS haven't seen an increase in five years," Schroeder said.
"The price of wholesale foods has increased so much in the past year that it makes sense meal prices would go up. However, we're striving to offer more options, more healthy choices, and to equalize price choices."
One of the new options at RUHS is a milk vending machine, added to the cafeteria at the end of the last school year. Painted like a cow, it keeps milk, fruit, smoothies, sandwiches, bagels, and other healthy snacks refrigerated and accessible to students before and after school and between sports events.
Students can learn even more about making healthy choices when parents teach good nutrition at home, Schroeder stressed.
"Nutrition is a great thing to learn because we all need fiber and vitamins, especially leafy green vegetables," Schroeder said. "Kids only know what they see at home or on TV, and good habits are reinforced at home."
Parents can think about better choices of snacks to send in their kids' lunch boxes, encourage kids to try new foods when introduced, and look for fresh produce at farmers markets and roadside stands, she suggested.
The Good Food Direct Committee meets on the second Thursday of each month to evaluate meals, plan the next meal and troubleshoot. For more information regarding this committee, call Patty Schroeder at 802-728-3397 ext 264.
The Herald of Randolph — August 25, 2004