Food for Thought
by MATTHEW NASH
Sequim schools could be following Port Angeles through the lunch line.
Parent advocates helped the Farm to Cafeteria movement work its way into Port Angeles schools, bringing healthier and local food items to the cafeterias.
Beth Loveridge, an advocate for the movement, said she and others have worked 10 years on the project.
"Speaking for three minutes at the school board helped us in Port Angeles," Loveridge said. "For it to happen in
Sequim, we really need interest from parents because that's what it's going to take."
On Aug. 14, the Port Angeles school board approved a five-year deal signed by Sodexo, Port Angeles and Sequim school districts' food provider.
Loveridge believes it's a groundbreaking achievement. The most notable achievement is a "Buy Local Provision."
Sodexo shall meet with local farmers each January to plan purchasing of local produce during the school year. They shall purchase 5 percent of the fresh fruit and vegetable food budget from local farmers in the first year of the contract, then increase their purchase by 5 percent per year for four more contract years.
The amount purchased is dependent on the food costs and if an adequate supply of local food is available.
Concerned parents, educators and community members advocated for the changes with a 600-person signed petition. Its wording made up part of the contract.
Port Angeles' Jefferson Elementary School became a pilot school last year to see if students would eat local foods. Staples of hamburgers, corn dogs, chicken nuggets and more were replaced with more made-from-scratch foods like soups.
The six-week program was so popular it continued for the rest of the school year.
Loveridge said the project disproved many critics' opinions that students wouldn't eat the food.
"Kids ate it, participation increased, trash was reduced, teachers loved it, and Sodexo kitchen staff fell in love with it, too," Loveridge said.
This year Sodexo committed to a similar program at Roosevelt Elementary in Port Angeles and to work more local and scratch-based foods into all the schools.
"I feel they've done a good job of working with farmers," Loveridge said.
"Sodexo gets (that) they can make money on this. Now Sodexo people can work as a community with other schools to show what they learned."
John Koch, director of food services in Port Angeles School District, reached out to farms last year and two signed up - Lazy J Farm and Nash's Organic Produce. He purchased potatoes and carrots from Nash's and salad mix from Lazy J.
"Generally I understand local farmers aren't growing to get into the commercial market," Koch said.
"They can get higher prices at the farmers markets, but when you talk volume like we do, then it's a whole different set of circumstances. If local farmers truly want to do business with large businesses, then there's got to be a shift on everyone's part."
Most food service providers receive meal items processed and ready to serve from multiple sources.
The local market runs into issues of supply and demand, season availability, pricing and more.
Port Angeles schools receive their foods mostly from Duck Delivery, which purchases a large portion of foods in-state.
"It might not be the local farmer down the street, but it's from Washington," Koch said.
He suggests local farms look into becoming suppliers that could trickle back into area schools.
"This is a work in progress," Koch said. "I'm on board, but I think it's going to be a long process. The day might come where I'll have a list and they'll provide for 10 months."
Taste Washington's farm food
Nash's helped feed hundreds of Port Angeles children on Taste Washington Day, an effort to promote local farms and from-scratch foods.
Kia Armstrong, manager at Nash's, said they grew russet potatoes specifically for the Sept. 29 event.
"Because of the partnership with Port Angeles schools, we were able to customize our cropping pattern and planting schedule and grow things they specifically wanted," Armstrong said. "But it takes time and a relationship."
Armstrong and others have volunteered time to build that relationship and stress the need for local foods in schools. She said there hasn't been the same community effort to raise awareness in Sequim.
"It's taken decades of working with parent advisory nutrition groups," Armstrong said. "Even as systems are improved, citizens, parents and local food supporters need to continue their diligence to positively impact the quality."
Ensuring safe food
School districts and food providers have raised concerns about insurance.
If a supplier has a containment that makes a group of people sick, then they are at fault if the supplier is
Armstrong said insurance no longer is an excuse.
"We don't sell it directly through Port Angeles School District. The insurance trail is covered through a series of partners (Bloxom and Cisco Foods) who assume the liabilities," she said.
"The food is still delivered straight to Port Angeles."
Items like carrots are field washed and sealed before
It's up to the provider to slice, dice and serve the food because many farms don't have the equipment to process the food.
"We're very excited to sell it locally to institutions like schools, senior care facilities and hospitals," Armstrong said.
"We have a fabulous relationship with Olympic Medical Center. They incorporate it into their menus weekly."
Making it yourself
Some schools on the North Olympic Peninsula have embraced a more hands-on approach to food.
Candice Cosler, Jefferson County school garden coordinator, said Grant Street Elementary in Port Townsend and Quilcene School have their own gardens.
Quilcene has a Harvest of the Month program featuring a local fruit or vegetable.
This month features a new local food each week.
Students there have harvested lettuce, cherry tomatoes and zucchini.
"We hope to provide the cafeteria with more food in the future," Cosler said.
She feels the push for local foods in schools is two-part.
"The nutritional value is higher if it's picked a day or two before and it's a lot tastier," Cosler said. "If it tastes better, then kids are going to eat it rather than throwing it away."
Sequim second-grade teacher Renee Mullikin has led her Greywolf Elementary classes to harvesting a garden for three years. Students celebrate with a large soup of vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes and squash. Mullikin finds that the students love the soup and will eat things out of their regular routine if they have a more hands-on approach.
Sequim schools do serve some local foods.
Laurie Campen, director of food services in Sequim, said she bought potatoes and carrots from Nash's last year and intends to do the same this year.
She also bought mixed leaf lettuce from Lyla Copeland on Steve Johnson's farm in Agnew, which depleted their supply, but she intends to buy more when available.
"I'm more than happy to see what they have and go from there," Campen said about local farms.
Sodexo's operations in
Sequim and Port Angeles don't overlap too much but they do try each other's items.
Sequim's contract with Sodexo was approved last year and doesn't have guidelines for buying local produce.
Campen said it's been about five years since parents approached her about the quality of food in schools. They felt there were too many calories and high-fat items, she said.
"There are a lot of misconceptions," Campen said. "If people came in and saw what we do, they'd change their mind."
Sequim's Sodexo has implemented some changes of its own with including more fresh foods and a bigger salad bar. Campen's staff has rearranged salad bars to include more fresh vegetables, kidney beans, peas, garbanzo beans and cottage cheese. Menu variation is dependent on available funds. Staff is making a lot of food from scratch, too.
From the ground up
Farm to cafeteria advocates feel making dishes from scratch is the place to start.
"If they served food that was scratch-cooked rather than processed, it'd be a huge step in the right direction," Armstrong said.
"Then they start substituting some items from menus for local distributors. The big dream is getting a lot of local foods in schools."
Meals are made at Sequim Community School for Helen Haller and Greywolf Elementary schools while Sequim middle and high schools have large enough kitchens to make their own meals from scratch.
Campen said some from-scratch foods include soups, pizza and bread.
The middle and high school pay more for food services, so more money is available for making items like quesadillas and Oriental foods from scratch. Campen said they've tried teriyaki chicken at the elementary schools, to much success. Kitchen staff plans to prepare orange chicken and stir-fry next.
Make it so
As trucks of produce pass Sequim schools daily, how do cafeterias get more of these local, healthier foods? Armstrong said an organized group of stakeholders influenced change in
"It took a lot of years of letter writing, petitions and hundreds of hours to get Port Angeles where it is at now," Armstrong said. "There's no one way to do it in each school district. Active voices are needed for this to happen."
Sequim school board member John Bridge said he's in favor of incorporating more local foods but he doesn't believe it's on the district's radar as a priority.
"I don't know why we couldn't do (what Port Angeles did) on our contract," Bridge said. "The way I think it would happen is if parents would come forward and talk to the superintendent and school board or some combination of that. It'd be great because it's all local food and kids could see where it comes from."
A small group of Sequim parents has expressed interest in implementing change in Sequim cafeterias. Darci Ulin, a Greywolf parent, said she's always had positive conversations with Campen and Sodexo representatives.
"With as many great brains and passion toward our Sequim community, I'm sure we can work out a plan to at least match Port Angeles' current program," Ulin said.
Armstrong believes the change can happen.
"It's key to success in the classroom and their long-term health," she said.
For more information on Sequim school menus, visit www.sodexhoeduca tion.com, call your nearby school or Laurie Campen at 582-3432.
Beth Loveridge can be contacted about a Sequim farm to cafeteria movement at 360-809-0027 or beth
Reach Matthew Nash at email@example.com.