From the garden to the cafeteria

Last month I attended the “Garden to Cafeteria Food Service Workshop” held in a conference room at the San Diego Zoo.  Recognizing the need for school gardens, and their recent surge in popularity, this one-day seminar was about establishing good protocols for harvesting garden produce for school lunch programs.  Here’s a sampling of my notes from the day:

  • Ventura School District buys 80% of their produce locally and has moved to scratch cooking—and this is serving 2 million meals a year!  Farewell Mystery Meat!  We heard about their innovative program, which included the district purchasing vegetables from one of their high school garden clubs.  Sandy Curwood, the district’s Food Services director, said that in preparing fresh, local food she has seen her budget remain the same but with an important shift.  What she has saved in processed food has been spent on hiring more people to prepare food.  A great trade-off, I think!
  • Sandy emphasized the importance of nutrition education in conjunction with the introduction of new foods.  Kids may not like new fruits or vegetables at first, but much like teaching math, we don’t eliminate teaching something because kids have initial resistance to it!
  • Great quote from Sandy Curwood:  “The famer/gardener is the frontline health practitioner.”
  • Interestingly enough, one of the organizers of the event was the San Diego Childhood Obesity Initiative.  With 30% of kids considered “clincally obese,” this group has an interest in school gardens and nutrition, maintaining that kids who have a hand in growing their food are more likely to form good eating habits.
  • Another presenter was San Diego Unified.  This district has recently written up a set of protocols for maintaining school gardens and safely harvesting food.  We walked to Roosevelt Middle School, an adjacent campus to the zoo that has a garden.  From their hydroponic garden, we harvested, rinsed and prepared lettuce, practicing the new SDUSD rules and regulations.
  • The workshop had a waiting list of people wanting to attend.  Hopefully this interest signals the fact that school gardens are slowly becoming more incorporated into the central life of schools.

The hydroponic system (and potting shed) at Roosevelt Middle School