For many years, the school lunch program has been serviced by a food service company headquartered out of the Midwest. Weekly, frozen entrées were trucked in from somewhere in southern California, stored and then “heated and served.” It worked for many reasons: the price, the pre-packaged portions, and the availability of this company to deliver to our remote mountain town. The quality of the food? Well, it was frozen, fairly processed and far from local. As part of our USDA Farm to School grant, Susi and I began to research other possibilities.
And a possibility began to emerge—so big and so wonderful—it was hard to believe it might actually happen. But it did, thanks to many meetings, the support of our administration and the work of our nutrition program director. Our school lunch program at our public elementary, junior high and high school, is now (as of two weeks ago) catered exclusively by a local Farm to Table restaurant, Jeremy’s on the Hill. Allow me to list the many levels of wonderfulness:
-Jeremy’s on the Hill is run by chef Jeremy Manly who attended Julian schools, went away to culinary school and came back home to establish a restaurant with his family.
-Jeremy’s on the Hill is a Farm to Table restaurant, sourcing as much local food as possible.
-Jeremy’s has a reputation for being one of the best places to eat in our town, and now the kids at our school get the benefit of their good food every day.
-Through this new contract, we were able to invest our school lunch program money into our own town, and it has created jobs.
-No longer frozen, all meals are cooked each morning and driven a few miles down the road.
-I was at the high school when the new program rolled out. The cafeteria smelled wonderful, I heard a kid exclaim about the “real food,” and many of the staff even bought lunch—perhaps for the first time. A mom wrote to me saying how thrilled she is that her son is taking advantage of the local, fresh salad bar. I’ve heard reports of kids trying new things—like the heirloom tomatoes last week–and being won over. One kid said the “Baja Bowl” with brown rice, cabbage, tomatoes, olives and fish didn’t look appetizing, but it was the best things he’s eaten in a long time. Sure, there a kinks to iron out as with any overhaul of any major program, but things are off to a great start thanks to the vision of our administration, the flexibility and commitment of our nutrition staff and Jeremy’s dedication to making sure that the school meal that many kids have—and many kids depend on—is the kind that will prepare their minds and bodies for learning. So celebrate with me: