“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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Live Well San Diego

Welcome to a new school year!  After a too-short summer, we are back at school and in the garden.  To kick off the new school year, please enjoy this article just published by our district’s partner Live Well San Diego about our school programs and Julian Pathways.

I look forward to another year in the garden with you!

 

 

 

March Garden Tour

It’s March in the garden, and it couldn’t be prettier.  Stroll with me.

Carmen from Julian Pathways led the effort to start a monthly “have lunch with your parent in the garden” event.  The first attempt was an unqualified success with over 50 students and parents sharing a meal on Friday afternoon.

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Photo courtesy of Scot Copeland

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Photo courtesy of Scot Copeland

Our Harvest of the Month is citrus.  Citrus doesn’t grow in Julian so we tasted delicious grapefruit from the “neighboring” town of Borrego.

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The breast cancer awareness ribbon is in full bloom!  Photo courtesy of 6th grade student Avery McFedries.

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Miss Lynn recently spruced up the gazebo with a new “coffee table,” pillows and a thorough cleaning.

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She also tucks these little things around the garden.  I love discovering them.

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Pediatric residents from UCSD do part of their community health rotation at our district, through Pathways.  Garden Ambassadors, decked out in St. Patrick’s attire, give the doc a tour.

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We added a geranium to the new mailbox to match the flag.

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Second grade students seeded this new circular bed and wagon with California wildflowers.

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After the rains, one of the garden volunteers found this on the back slope of the garden.  We’re thinking bobcat?

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It was the garden’s turn to make a display for the front office.

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Julian kids get to plant a lot of daffodils but they rarely get to go back and pick them.  I had students make “surprise” bouquets for their teachers from flowers in the garden.

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I’ll close with a link that captures our teacher “flash mob” last October on National Food Day.  “We can change the world”—not just a pop song!  The truth!  (Right, Susi?)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2ZZmOzmFqQ

Harvest of the Month: Tomatoes

It’s official–it’s on the marquee.

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Planted in June, these tomatoes will be ripening right on time.  For the month of September, we will be harvesting and eating all of our garden-grown beauties.

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Arranged by school board member Mrs. Tellam, the Farm Stand in Escondido donated a box of Carolina Golds and Caro Rich that we took out to recess…….

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…so that the Garden Ambassadors could run a taste test.  Our principal/superintendent Mr. Ogden is interacting with the kids, encouraging them to have a taste and exclaiming how delicious the tomatoes are!

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The ambassadors always take a poll:  thumbs up or thumbs down.  (Only one reported thumbs down.)  They also asked the “tomato challenge”: letting kids know tomatoes don’t come from Italy (a common guess!) but from Central and South America.

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We had some left over, so we put them in the front office so that kids, parents and staff could take one or two home.

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Our brand new lunch menu has been featuring gorgeous local heirloom tomatoes so the hope is that all of this education will ultimately make kids more receptive to/excited about them when they see them on the salad bar.  Yum!

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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

The low-hanging fruit?

If you’ve been to Julian, you’ll know we are associated with one thing above all else:  apples.  Orchards, apple pie, the annual Apple Days celebrations, apple-themed gifts in the shops, etc.

Say Julian–think apples.

And every day in our cafeteria we serve apples from Oregon and Washington State, even when Julian apples are in season.

This is one of a million ways in which our food systems are disconnected. It happens all around the world, to the detriment of our planet (all that transportation!) and our palate (stored and shipped food is often inferior, for obvious reasons.)

Naturally, in my role as Farm to School planning grant director, this is one of the first things I’m tackling.  And as simple as it sounds—swap out one apple vendor for another—it’s really very complicated, in ways that you can only appreciate when you dive into the specifics of the ways things are, as I’ve been doing.

Big thought for the day: systemic change is hard.

But not hopeless.  We are working away diligently on the ways things could be by investigating how to get local apples and pears onto our school lunch menu.

Until then, we’re going to do one better:  plant apple trees on our campus.

Yesterday the organizer of the newly-formed Julian Apple Growers Association, Teak Nichols, came by school to spend the afternoon putting bare root trees in the ground with our Garden Ambassadors.  Raised here in Julian, Teak has a passion for preserving the collective knowledge base, economic importance and cultural resource of apples.  So we worked with a handful of kids to enlarge our small orchard.  He’ll be back to teach pruning, and I imagine many other things as we connect his group with our efforts at school.

Teak had just asked a question like, “Who wants to plant the Fuji?”  Um, is the enthusiasm of these kids coming across?

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Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

Under Teak’s instruction, the kids dug the holes, properly sited the trees, filled them in, watered, staked, labeled and wrapped sunburn protection around the trunks.  (Notice their official gear.  The shirts were meant for formal occasions, but these kids love any excuse to put on their ambassador shirts.)

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Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

Beautiful weather, outdoor education, the promise of fruit, excited kids….I’m not great at containing my excitement.

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Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

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Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries