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Taste Washington Day: Putting one day’s menu a step in the local direction

Sep 16th, 2010 | Category: Features, News

This lunch meal of local ingredients was served at Mount Baker School District in 2009.

by Becca Schwarz Cole

On Sept. 29, a number of schools and farms across the state will work together to provide a school lunch made of fresh, locally grown and raised ingredients, during Taste Washington Day. While most foods in public schools throughout the year come from large-scale, distant distribution companies, many are hoping this one meal – a collaboration between the Washington School Nutrition Association (WSNA) and State Department of Agriculture’s Farm-to-School Program, working with schools and farms – will help forge relationships and knowledge to bring more local food into the student lunchroom, increased agricultural curriculum into the classroom, and provide a form of support on the state level.

Tricia Sexton Kovacs, of the Farm-to-School Program through the Washington State Department of Agriculture, said this is the first year the department is involved as a direct partner, helping to coordinate with the School Nutrition Association. “We are acting as a go between so that farmers know this is happening and to be connected with schools,” Kovacs said of any farms interested in participating.

The Farm-to-School Program has set up a database, sent out notices through state list serves, contacted media and other outlets to spread the word about the event. “We’ve had really good response from people we haven’t heard from before,” Kovacs said. “This is a great opportunity to get schools to think about the farm to school program, and to see if any relationships build from that.”

The Farm-to-School Program will provide support to match up farms and schools and facilitate the purchasing process, and also help schools add educational activities to the day, including in the form of posters in the cafeteria, inviting a farmer to lunch, or visiting a farm, farmers market or school garden. Education resources include templates for in-cafeteria promotional posters, menu slicks, lists of participating farms and distribution companies, and links to online resources for regional purchasing.

A number of schools are participating in the event on Sept. 29, Kovacs said. With schools just returning early this month, combined with this time of year being the busy season for farmers, the coordinating efforts have been somewhat difficult. (A full list of participants is posted on the Farm-To-School program’s webpage at

“I’m excited about it, it’s going pretty well,” Kovacs said, adding those who have signed up for Taste Washington Day are eager and ready.

In our northwest Washington corner, several districts are participating, including: Mount Baker, Bellingham, Lynden, Lummi Tribal School, Anacortes, Concrete, Meridian, Orcas Island, La Conner, Arlington, Everett, and others, each on their own level.

Kovacs said the Mount Baker School District in Whatcom County is “awesome,” noting the work of Mount Baker’s Food Services Coordinator Karla Atwood, who oversees not just one, but several local meals. The Taste Washington Day event used to take place in the month of March, when the variety of local food is quite low. Atwood, who held a local food lunch in March, decided on her own last year to hold a harvest season day at the school in September.

“Farm-to-school is way harder than it sounds. It’s very difficult to practice on a regular basis,” Kovacs said. “She’s a great example of someone doing something.”

Atwood prepares a menu for Taste Washington Day, but also creates other days focusing on local food. For example, the district’s 5th annual Grown in Washington Day was held on Sept. 10 at the High School and Junior High. District-wide, students were offered a lunch comprised of a chicken leg, baby potatoes, homemade roll, golden corn, greens, fresh apple, ice cream and low fat milk.

“My goal is to provide a meal that could be grown right here in Washington,” she said.
The meal she will serve for Taste Washington Day on Sept. 29 will consist of a baked potato, beef and bean chili, bread stick, broccoli, carrots, apple slices and milk.

Atwood has been trying to incorporate more local foods into the daily menu. “Yes, as an example we have partnered with our high school horticulture students last year to grow some lettuce and tomatoes to serve at our high school,” she said. “We have worked with over seven local farmers who have supplied us with everything from apples to pickles, potatoes to blueberries and much in between.”

Washington weather is an issue when it comes to creating a local menu, Atwood said. “Also, keeping mindful of the cost is a part of the puzzle,” she added.

Information will be available to students district-wide about the local menu. Atwood says the menus will market the local ingredients, and “school chefs” will talk with students for several days before  the event to promote it. “Signs will be posted as to what farm supplied what part of the meal,” she said.

Atwood has worked in three different districts over the past 22 years and has always worked with local farmers. “I think the focus is currently on this all over the country. We are just ahead of the curve. How great is that,” she said.

Whatcom County also has a Farm to School support team, chaired by Mardi Solomon and Holly O’Neil, working directly with schools to support the use of more local food. The Whatcom-Farm-to-School support team (called F2S) started in 2009 and is funded by the Sustainable Whatcom Fund Advisory Committee of the Whatcom Community Foundation. “Our focus is on assisting Whatcom County schools to purchase and serve more locally produced foods,” said Mardi Solomon, in an interview via e-mail. “As part of this effort, 15 grants were awarded last fall/winter for pilot projects.”

One of the projects was to launch a Bellingham School District F2S advisory group. The 15-member group is chaired by the Bellingham School District Food Service Director Mark Dalton, and is coordinated by Rachel Akins and Jessica Sankey. “Taste Washington Day is the first project of the advisory group,” Solomon said. “Members have provided Mark with support in food procurement, developing education and PR materials, and organizing volunteers to help in the cafeteria and gather impressions of how the food goes over with the students.”

The Bellingham school district will offer the same style meal to students in elementary through high school. “For elementary schools, the Washington-grown meal will be the only lunch option (except for students with specialized diets),” Solomon said. “At the middle and high schools, the Washington-grown lunch will be presented as one of several options.”
The menu will be: chicken drumstick from Draper Valley Farms, of Skagit County; roasted red, white and purple potatoes from Alm Hill Gardens – Growing Washington, of Everson; salad from Hendrickson Farms, of Marysville; breadstick from Shephard’s Grain, of eastern Washington; and blueberry cobbler with blueberries from Williams Farms (Deming).
When asked how students and staff react to meals of local ingredients, Solomon said they don’t know yet; this is the first time the Bellingham School District has a presented a local meal to all grade levels.

Solomon noted however that one of the group’s pilot projects in 2009 included a local salad lunch at Sehome High School, with a small number of salads shipped to Fairhaven Middle School as well. “In the spring, the salads were sold for a $1 promo price on Tuesday and Thursday. The salads were made with all local ingredients supplied by Growing Washington, Draper Valley chicken, and local eggs,” she said. “They were a big hit, selling out every time they were offered.”

Starting Thursday, Sept. 29, Sehome will again begin offering the local salad on Thursdays for a price of $3. “We will see how the students and staff respond,” she said.

The F2S group has sent out information packets about Taste Washington Day for parents and teachers, and plan to have parent volunteers in each school’s cafeteria to talk to students about the lunch.

Other participating school districts are diversifying their menu or putting on different events.
“People are doing different things with it all over the state,” Kovacs said. Among them is Georgia Johnson of the La Conner School District’s Culinary Arts and Creative Foods. “Her menu is beautiful,” Kovacs said.

Johnson, who has been with the district for six years, confirmed her menu for Taste Washington Day, which will include: russet baked potatoes and ham julienne from local growers; cheese sauce with some cheddar and mozzarella from Golden Glen Creamery; green onions, broccoli florets, and others from Hedlin Farms and Swanson Brothers Farm; Jonagold apples from Gordon Skagit Farm; and chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream, using raspberries from Swanson Brothers.

“Each year we try to increase our buying of local foods, and create a couple of new lunches, hopefully featuring local, organic, raw foods. One of those three can be a great success,” she said. “There is nothing like fresh carrots, beets, corn, apples squash, you know came from down the road, from someone you just talked to on the phone.”

Students, staff and parents have responded well to the local lunches, she said. The staff attendance has doubled the last couple of years. “I’ve noticed that most students really appreciate the change, more raw fruits and vegetables,” Johnson said, adding there are a small number of students who are vocal about any changes, but “are good monitors of how we are doing in general.”

Johnson said the district is working on the distribution piece, and “how to get the food here, along with other districts. There is a huge organizing movement over this right now, including farms, schools, hospitals, and other large users.”

“Almost anything grown in the valley could be on our menu, or on our fantastic salad bar,” she said. “I think if one lives in the Skagit Valley the farms and produce are all around us and so the question arises, why aren’t we getting this food that is so close to home?” Johnson continued. “Or, we compare the local carrots we are preparing and eating at home to the ones received from the big distributors and feel we want to serve the same quality to our kids. Or, we know friends in the valley who are farmers and we want to support them through what ever means we can because there is more pressure each year for them to turn to factory farm style practices not friendly to the environment, more laws on the books each year trying force them to use products and systems meant to keep us safe at our end of the production cycle, instead of the continuous safe practices that small farms have been implementing for centuries.”

In other places, such as Carnation, the local school is being used as a hub to collect the food and get it into the lunchroom. Others are doing basic menus but offering large salad bars full of all local greens and interesting vegetables.

“We’re really enthusiastic and hopeful that there will be long-term relationships made,” Kovacs said. “We have a lot more planned.”

The following is the list of public schools from across the state participating in Taste Washington Day:
Anacortes School District
Arlington Public Schools
Auburn School District
Bainbridge School District
Battleground School District
Bellingham School District
Bethel School District
Bremerton School District
Cle Elum-Roslyn School District
Concrete School District
Cosmopolis School District
East Valley School District – Spokane
East Valley School District-Yakima
Enumclaw School District
Everett School District
Evergreen School District
Freeman School District
Grapeview School District
Griffin School District
Harrington School District
Highline Public Schools
Hockinson School District
Hoquiam School District
Kelso School District
Kent School District
King’s Schools
Klickitat School District
La Conner School District
Lummi Tribal School
Lyle School District
Lynden School District
Mary Walker School District
Mercer Island School District
Meridian School District
Mill A School District
Monroe School District
Mt. Baker School District
Nespelem School District
North Mason School District
Northshore School District
Olympia School District
Onion Creek School District
Orcas Island School District
Pasco School District
Peninsula School District
Port Angeles School District
Pullman School District
Quilcene School District
Ridgefield School District
Riverview School District
Rochester School District
Rosalia School District
Seattle Public Schools
Spokane Public Schools
St. Joseph Catholic School
Stanwood School District
Stevenson-Carson School District
Sunnyside School District
Toppenish School District
Union Gap School District
Wahluke School District
Wapato School District
Waterville School District
Wenatchee School District
West Valley School District-Yakima

White River School District

Zillah School District

The following is the list of farms from across the state participating in Taste Washington Day:
Alvarez Farms
American Produce Express
Bellewood Acres
Black River Blues
Blue Rose Dairy
Boistfort Valley Farm
Cloudview Ecofarms
Dagdagan Produce
Dickey Farms
Dry Slough Orchard
DV Farm
Emtman Brothers Farms
Full Circle Farm
Growing Washington
Harvest Jubilee
Harvest View Gardens
Hedlin Farms
Hidden Meadow Ranch
Holly Lane Gardens
J&W Hutton
Little Eorthe Farm
Low Gap Produce
Lubbe Farms
Magana Farms
Mark Applebee Orchard
Marshland Orchards
Millingwood Organics, LLC
Morgan Family Farm
Nash’s Organic Produce
Okanogan Producers Marketing Association
Open Gate Farm
Oxbow Farm
Palouse Grain Growers, Inc.
Ralph’s Greenhouse
Shaw’s Fruit and Produce
Shepherd’s Grain
Smithson Ranch
Stiebrs Farms, Inc.
T & T Farms
Tahoma Farms
Terra Organics
Township 18
Viva Farms
Wilson Banner Ranch
Yaksum Orchard Heirloom Fruit
Zepp Farm

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