Not your parents’ school lunch

By FoodCorps Service Member Emily Horowitz for the Julian News

Everything you think you know about school lunch is wrong. There is no grumpy old lunch lady plopping slop onto styrofoam trays of hungry students, no half-frozen cardboard pizzas or lumpy mystery meat specials. School lunch has had a bad rap for over 50 years — rightfully so in some cases — but with new USDA nutrition standards and policy shifts, school lunch has been changing for the better.

At Julian Elementary School and Julian Junior High School, we are incredibly lucky to have school lunch made by chefs Donald and Shirley Hooper at the local restaurant Jeremy’s on the Hill. As parents to a first grader and a pre-schooler, creating delicious, locally sourced kid-friendly meals is a personal matter for the Hoopers. Donald has transformed Jeremy’s On the Campus lunch program by sourcing the most local ingredients he can find with the help of the generous suppliers at Sysco and local growers like Sage Mountain Farms. From San Diego free-range chicken to tomatoes delivered within four hours of harvesting, the ingredients in our school lunch are far from the frozen mysteries we used to serve.

If San Diego isn’t local enough for you, Donald is also partnering with Brigida and Josh Rasmussen of Down the Road Farm, and Stacy Peyakov of Wynola Flats Produce. Down the Road Farm is a 22.5 acre farm and orchard that uses organic practices and, although it is still relatively small, provides salad greens and herbs for both Jeremy’s on the Hill restaurant and the school lunch program. The Hoopers supplement dishes with these local greens and create sauces from “ugly” produce donated by Wynola Flats to form the delicious and healthy meals served at school everyday.

The National School Lunch Program has strict standards dictating the amount of sodium, saturated fat, sugar, number of calories, and servings of fruit and vegetables contained in each student’s meal. These requirements mean that children who buy school lunch may be more likely to meet their daily nutrition requirements than those who bring lunch from home. It can be difficult to make sure kids are eating nutritious and balanced meals, so why not ditch the lunchable or leftover pizza for some affordable restaurant-quality lunch that you know is healthy?

National school lunch programs allow children whose families may not have access to healthy food to receive the majority of their daily nutrition needs at a reduced price or even for free. In rural Julian, the need for affordable fresh food is especially high. Our school lunch program, Jeremy’s on the Campus, is famous throughout San Diego county as one of the most unique and progressive systems of its kind. The Farm to School movement, which strives to connect kids to healthy food in schools, is transforming lunch programs all over the nation, and we are proud to be a part of it. So next time you stress about what to pack in your child’s lunchbox, put down the hot cheetos, and let your child enjoy a beautiful salad bar and freshly cooked meal!

A first grade student enjoys a chicken sandwich made with meat from Mary’s Chicken in San Diego.

 Donald and Shirley Hooper receive the Julian Backcountry Collaborative April Partner of the Month Award.

Thank you San Diego Master Gardeners!

Last semester Julian Elementary was thrilled to receive a $500 grant to build a pioneer history raised bed in conjunction with the 5th grade teacher, Mrs. McFedries, as part of her social studies curriculum.  We used the money to buy heirloom seeds, wood, soil and paints.  Our garden teachers Kat and Emily did an awesome job overseeing all of the steps with Mrs. McFedries.

We chose to take out a raised bed that we inherited ten years ago and was falling apart.

Students cut and painted the new boards.  We decided to make this bed not only wider, but also twice as deep.

Tom, the head of our school maintenance staff, generously helped the students build the bed.

Meanwhile, students propagated their seeds from “Seed Savers Exchange” on every available flat space in the classroom and later in the garden.  Emily had researched and purchased historic varieties of beans, corn, squash, okra, cucumber and herbs.

It took a lot of soil to fill this beauty!  Small transplants were then placed in the new bed and covered in agrobon to protect the baby plants.

Finished product!  (We only need to add some length to the current irrigation.) The fifth graders “paid it forward” by planting herbs and vegetables for next year’s class, but since the junior high is adjacent to the elementary, they can also come back early next school year to enjoy the harvest too!  The smaller letters on the bed read “Thank you SD Master Gardeners!”

 

“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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Drink a rainbow

An effective phrase for teaching nutrition to children is “eat a rainbow!”  The simple idea is that eating fruits and veggies of all different colors builds a healthy diet.  We made this a theme on Food Day 2015, and I want to keep building upon it.

Sage Garden has provided us with their notebook of recipes which includes a different color smoothie for each grade.  I pulled all of the different colors and am doing “Drink a rainbow!” workshops for my after school students.

I began by setting up the Sage Garden cooking cart with all of the equipment and ingredients laid out and the recipe written on the whiteboard.

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Then I gave each pair of students a stack of laminated fruit and vegetable cards produced by the California Department of Education.  The students sorted the fruits and veggies into two piles:  orange/yellow and other.  We talked about all the orange and yellow examples we found.

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Students came up one by one for the various jobs:  juicing the oranges, peeling the bananas, pressing the limes, adding the strawberries, measuring out the yogurt.

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The next week we did purple smoothies, and this week we will blend up red ones.  As you can imagine, it’s a very popular class!

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The Great Julian Apple Crunch

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Today Julian Elementary and Junior High celebrated National Food Day with 15 workshops on nutrition, cooking, backyard gardening and agriculture.  It was amazing—look for upcoming posts with photos and stories.

For now, let me share a video with you.  Every year people across the country celebrate good, fresh food with an Apple Crunch event.  We did one this year, thanks to Ken and Linda Limon who visited a neighboring orchard whose owners allowed them to harvest for free, picked 400 apples, hand sorted them, packed them in flats of 50 and delivered them to cold storage in the school kitchen.  We washed and bagged them by class size.  Students wore their red No Excuses shirts to school, Garden Ambassadors held up big leaves, and our principal got on the roof to film the event.  The weather was sketchy today but it held just long enough…..five minutes later, downpour!  Simply amazing.

Thank you Linda and Ken—you made this happen!

 

 

It works, it works, it works!

Nutrition/cooking education.  Make no mistake: it works.

It’s said all the time but I’m here with hard evidence to prove it: When you grow and cook food with kids at school, in a fun, interactive way, they are more likely to try new foods and want to cook at home.

As mentioned in the last post, we made ratatouille in our garden/kitchen class.  I also sent home a letter with the recipe to each family and encouraged the kids to teach their parents the recipe.  I said, “If you do make ratatouille at home, please send me a picture.” The very next day I started receiving these:

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Once I received the picture, I visited the student’s class with congratulations,  a few questions about his/her cooking experience at home, and an invitation  to have lunch in the garden that day with a friend.  I’m thrilled that at our school “lunch in the garden” is a motivating reward, as it is sometimes hard to think of incentives that aren’t sweets/snacks or little throwaway objects.

None of this is lost on you, dear readers, but allow me to list the levels of goodness here:

-Students have a positive experience with a certain food at school and bring that excitement home.

-Students show off newly acquired skills to parents, and we all know that re-teaching is good learning.

-Families learn new recipes—in this case, one that is vegetarian, seasonal, adaptable and affordable.

-Students are congratulated and rewarded in front of their peers for extending their learning after school.

Many thanks to Wynola Flats for sourcing these delicious vegetables and ordering what I needed.  I can’t tell you how exciting it was to stop in yesterday for more ingredients and have Stacy say, “People have been coming in, buying ingredients for ratatouille….”

 

“Beauty is a language of care” (ESY Part 2)

My 6-day experience at the Edible Schoolyard Academy (ESY) is simply too big of a story to tell into one post so I’m breaking it all into my “take-aways.”  The first is a principle of Alice Water’s that touches every part of the ESY program:  we show students we love them by creating beautiful spaces for them to eat, learn, and live in. (Perhaps this applies to many/all areas of life?) Let me show you how this plays out…

We were welcomed by this booth at the opening reception…

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…and fed things like this…

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Freshly gathered and arranged flowers from the garden show up everywhere.

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Notice the handmade “papel picado” strung across the classrooms (also in the kitchen classroom.)

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I could go on posting my flower photos, but you get the idea.

This commitment to beauty is also seen on the handwritten, illustrated recipes used in the cooking class.  (We even had a session with Chef Ester on how to whimsically illustrate a recipe.)

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…and also in the signage for just about everything:

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Even the placemats, which connected our meals to the 6-8th grade humanities lessons they teach—lessons also taught at their school.

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At the end of each cooking lesson, students clear the workspace, set the table with a tablecloth, and then go to the side table (below) to pick out elements for a centerpiece.

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Check out the sign!  Enough said.IMG_6484This emphasis was encouraging to me because in the Julian Elementary Garden, one of our 8 components of our mission statement is: We grow beauty.  As such, we have had lessons during which we transplanted donated irises to the front of the school with Miss Sally to beautify the parking lot, learned about flower shows and then picked daffodils for our local show in Julian Town Hall, and made wreaths and flower arrangements to place around campus.  All of this takes time away from “edibles,” but I am reminded it’s incredibly important and we are right on track!