“California Thursdays” lunch launch

On March 17th, our district participated in a statewide launch of California Thursdays, a program promoted by the Center for Ecoliteracy.  The idea is simple: districts sign on to serve a lunch every Thursday sourced only with California food.

To get ready for the big celebration, I worked with after school students for two months to create educational signage and decorations.

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Strawberries were planned for the menu, so I made them the “harvest of the month” and created strawberry lessons.  We examined strawberry plants, talked about “runners” or stolons, searched for plants in the garden with “strawberry facts,” whipped up strawberry smoothies and made little posters that later decorated the lunch area wall.

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One day before the event, I taught two flower arranging classes after school to make the lunch table centerpieces.  I found the plastic pots at a dollar store, and we made the entire arrangements with only plants and flowers found in the school garden.  They turned out beautifully!

Picking flowers…..

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…and arranging them!

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On the morning of our launch, the Garden Ambassadors came to school early to help me hang signs and posters.

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At 11:00 our special guests arrived—the farmers and ranchers who provided the food for lunch, representatives from our caterer Jeremy’s on the Campus, Jan Stone from the Center for Ecoliteracy and partners from North County San Diego Health and Human Services.  Our Garden Ambassadors greeted each guest, sat with him/her during the assembly and lunch, and provided garden tours.

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Our lunch consisted of sliders made with bison meat from a local ranch, salad from Farmer Phil at Sage Mountain Farm, and bread from California Mountain Bakery.  At the assembly right before lunch, junior high students showed a slideshow they created about California agriculture.  Ken Childs from Star B Ranch, the local bison ranch, spoke to the kids about raising bison and set up a table of bison-related items to see and touch.  Chef Jeremy, Farmer Phil, Jan Stone and Health and Human Services Deputy Director Jennifer Bransford-Koons also spoke about good, local food and healthy lunch!

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Then we all ate lunch!  A wonderful day, and an awesome concept—our district is proud to be a part of the state’s California Thursday effort!  (And thank you to Susi Jones for making this whole event happen—her vision always inspires!)

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My farm to school vacation…er, conference

Susi and I just returned from the first California Farm to School conference hosted by the California Farm to School Network.  Hands down, it was the best “school” conference I’ve ever attended.  Let’s start with the location: Asilomar, a historic, sprawling complex with grand lodges and cabin/motel-ish accommodations sitting right on the dunes sweeping down to the Pacific Ocean.

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And then there was the food.  I was sad when I turned in my last meal ticket.  Locally sourced, beautifully prepared, incredibly fresh—for a conference, simply delectable.

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And then yes, there was the conference itself.  Three days of workshops and plenaries on Big Ideas (the vision of feeding all kids good food) and smaller strategies (local procurement, school gardens, curriculum ideas, farm visits.)  The room was full of passionate, interesting, committed folks, and we learned just as much from our mealtime conversations about common obstacles, stunning successes, and good ideas. One highlight was hearing Farmer Bob’s story from Redlands, California (where incidentally, I grew up.)  A 4th generation farmer, his citrus groves are still producing fruit from 100+ year old trees.  As he explained, the fruit gets sweeter…and smaller…with age.  So since the market cares mainly for “size, price and appearance” and not much for “taste,” he was lacking a market…until he began selling to school districts who were happy to put those small, tasty oranges into little hands for school lunch.  Win-win.  Kids get good food; small farms get saved.

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One night we were bused to Monterey High School where we sampled menu items from at least ten different districts who practice “California Thursday”—a school lunch sourced completely from our state. Many of the most forward thinking districts are now looking at “the center of the plate” or sourcing local, responsible proteins like Mary’s Chicken, which we sampled. Monterey High School serves fish tacos filled with fish from their own bay.  The “cafeteria” was beautiful, and they threw in a high school jazz band.  Again, bliss.

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Pictured below: companies that sell/distribute California-made pasta and grains.

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I return to my own school and community, re-invigorated to keep at the work of “all the good things that happen in school gardens.”  Thanks for following our story.

National Breakfast Week

On Tuesday we celebrated National Breakfast Week.  Julian Pathways secured a grant for the school district from Action for Healthy Kids in order to promote the eating of breakfast, and we used it to provide a free breakfast to every child at the elementary and junior high. To make it a festive event, we all ate in the garden!

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The chains were made from seed catalogues by the children

Centerpieces were paper roses, made from seed catalogues, by 3rd and 4th grade students last week in garden class.

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Younger student colored these messages:

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Breakfast is brain food!

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Eat your breakfast!

Student musicians played on the gazebo “stage”….

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…and under the plum tree!

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Last week during garden class, I worked with the fifth graders to write “breakfast haiku.” Students read their poems in-between the musical presentations.

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Twelve lucky kids had heart stickers on their breakfast bags….

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…which meant they got to return to the garden at lunch to ride the “blender bike” and enjoy their own pedal-powered smoothies!

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Thanks to Pathways and Action for Healthy Kids for making this wonderful morning possible!

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Smoothie bike!

One of our Farm to School purchases was a bike blender attachment.  A regular bike gets hooked up to a stand and a platform with a Vitamix blender.  Thirty seconds of pedal power, and you have a full pitcher of smoothie.

We ordered the smoothie apparatus in order to promote healthy snacks at school events.  The mountain bike club borrowed the equipment last weekend for the elementary cross-country meet. We used a simple recipe of apple juice, frozen berries, fresh bananas, and ice. Not only did we raise money for our team, but we also had the pleasure of passing out healthy, delicious drinks to kids running their hearts out on a beautiful day in Julian.

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Thanks to my Dad who first saw this type of bike at a golf tournament and led me to research it.  Find out more at http://www.rockthebike.com

From the “hill” to the “campus”

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:

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Farm to School and gardening in San Diego

I should have just pitched a tent at the San Diego County operations center last week because I was there for two different events, three days in a row.  Both make me glad I live in San Diego County where good things are happening in the farm/gardening world.

The first:  Let’s Go Local! Showcase.  This was a “meet and greet” between school district food service staff and local farms and distributors.  As I’ve discussed before, creating a Farm to School program is challenging because there are so many disconnected pieces to connect.  This innovative, model event sought to make the process easier by bringing the two sides of the conversation together—buyers and sellers in the transaction over school food.  Or as the Union Tribute* put it:

San Diego County has more than 6,000 small farms, including one-third that cultivate produce. But with no single broker between the growers and schools, the first step can be a logistical maze for districts.  The San Diego County Farm to School Taskforce, a subcommittee of the Childhood Obesity Initiative, helped bridge that gap on Thursday with a showcase at the county operations center in Kearny Mesa.  Representatives from about 30 school districts met with distributors and growers who set up booths that overflowed with produce in a farmers market-like setting on an upstairs patio.

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Then on Saturday, I was a plant schlepper for the San Diego Master Gardeners Spring Seminar.  This is a full-day of workshops, lectures, cooking lessons (there was a singing chef!) and a marketplace of plants, gardening tools and garden art.  It was incredible, and I was proud to be a small part of it as an MG.

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Master Gardeners are known for their birdhouse gourds

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Master Gardeners also has a committee that makes birdhouses from recycled bits and pieces that they sell at events

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Official t-shirt? Check. Name badge? Check. Broad-brimmed gardening hat? Check.

Union Tribune article

To the USDA and back again

If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know that we are in the middle of a USDA Farm to School planning grant.  As part of this grant, representatives from each of the funded districts went to D.C. for a two-day conference last week.

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Ashley, our consultant, me and Susi, Pathways Director in front of the US Department of Agriculture where our meeting was held

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan addressed our group at the Whitten Building.  In her remarks, she said three things I will remember.  One, everyone believes in the Farm to School concept:  kids get healthy food, and local economies are stimulated.  Two, despite the simplicity of the concept, the implementation is very difficult. (I just wrote about that here!)  Three, Farm to School is one of the things the USDA is truly excited about, having invested 4.5 million in this project this year alone. They told us repeatedly that as the first cohort of grant recipients, we are the ones pushing this movement forward, and they are looking forward to seeing what we do and how we do it.  We are grateful for their vision and support.

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To equip us with tools, we had presentations on subjects such as promoting food safety, procuring local food, and marketing our programs.  It was great stuff—kudos to all of the staff who made this possible.

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Our group is incredibly diverse.  A district with 200 students in South Dakota was represented (smaller than us!) as well as districts with dozens of schools and 50,000+ students .  We heard about efforts in sourcing local bison for burgers, introducing salad bars in a state that has never featured them before, and partnering with hometown NFL teams to promote good nutrition on campus. Some of our most valuable moments were chatting with our fellow grant recipients:  What are you doing? How are you doing it?  For example, we struck up a conversation with a group of folks during a break about school lunch vendors—turns out one of them is the star of the new documentary film “Cafeteria Man.”  (http://cafeteriaman.com)

We also got to do a few fun things like dine out at the ah-mazing “farm to table” restaurant Founding Farmers and have a private tour of the Food 1950-2000 exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

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The exhibit, which includes Julia Child’s kitchen, has a long dining table in the middle of the room. On “Lazy Susans” running down the middle of the table, discussion questions and information was presented on the topic of “food pyramids” over time and across cultures. These topics will change, and next up is “school lunch.”

Our White House garden tour was cancelled (sequester!), and so I didn’t get the chance to ask Michelle out to coffee to talk about gardening, parenting, the challenge of being married to busy men, etc.  The upside was that I had some extra time to tack on a breakfast, stroll to the Mall and connect with dear D.C. friends.  Coming up next: the childrens’ garden at the National Botanic Gardens.

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