Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Thanks for the memories! May 2010-March 2020

Get the local dirt in our northwest corner • Regrowing in 2023!

School cafeteria improvement projects under way

May 4th, 2016 | Category: Community

Farm to School: Local districts are changing the face of lunchtime

by Mary Vermillion

Thanks to the Whatcom Community Foundation’s Farm to School program and local districts, school lunch is beginning to taste and look different. Best known for leading the charge to serve more local produce at cafeterias, Farm to School recently funded $70,000 in grants that coupled with school district initiatives may lead to a shift in the school lunch experience.

The local projects mirror the USDA’s Smarter Lunchroom campaign that encourages simpler changes to inspire more students to eat healthy school lunches while decreasing waste. Recommendations include improving the lunchroom atmosphere, increasing access to fruits and vegetables, adding posters that encourage smart food choices, and involving students in menu selections.

Renowned chef Ann Cooper, known as the “Renegade Lunch Lady,” visited Bellingham in January 2016 and gave a presentation about school lunch reform at the Mount Baker Theatre. Cooper, director of food services for the Boulder Valley School District in Boulder, Colo. is a partner in Lunch Lessons, a consultancy for school districts going through large-scale change in food services.  PHOTO COURTESY OF BELLINGHAM SCHOOLS

Renowned chef Ann Cooper, known as the “Renegade Lunch Lady,” visited Bellingham in January 2016 and gave a presentation about school lunch reform at the Mount Baker Theatre. Cooper, director of food services for the Boulder Valley School District in Boulder, Colo. is a partner in Lunch Lessons, a consultancy for school districts going through large-scale change in food services. PHOTO COURTESY OF BELLINGHAM SCHOOLS

Farm to School staff asked local schools what they wanted to change in their lunchrooms. The answers came in from across the county. Ultimately, nine projects received Farm to School cafeteria improvement grants. Lummi Nation School will use their grant to buy a salad bar and cooler for a smoothie station. Nooksack Valley High School students will soon see a grab-n-go breakfast kiosk. Columbia, Roosevelt and Sunnyland will purchase and install noise reduction panels. Columbia students will also work with an artist to design cafeteria signs. A new waste disposal station is coming to Parkview Elementary, and Whatcom Middle School will build a greenhouse to grow food for school meals. A charging station for smart phones and tablets and a cafeteria sound system will be implemented at Ferndale High School to entice students to stay on campus for lunch.

Farm to School and district staff and volunteers will study how the projects impact kids’ eating behavior and consumption.

Whatcom Community Foundation executive director Mauri Ingram said Farm to School aligns with a larger community health strategy to help families make informed food choices and to encourage kids to lead active, healthy lives. School districts share that commitment. In addition to partnering with Farm to School and others on grant programs, district staff are working on projects funded by voter-approved bonds.

Bellingham-based Zervas Architects is designing many of the bond-approved cafeteria projects. Terry Brown, who has memories of his high school cafeteria’s dreary basement setting, said his firm was intuitively following smarter lunchroom design principles but Farm to School staff have enhanced their appreciation.  Brown added design changes include more natural light and seating options that encourage kids to linger and enjoy their lunches. Zervas architects and designers are also strengthening connections between the kitchen, cafeteria and school gardens.

 School districts are working with Farm to School to plant and harvest gardens at local schools to increase students understanding of how their food is grown. PHOTOS COURTESY OF BELLINGHAM SCHOOLS

School districts are working with Farm to School to plant and harvest gardens at local schools to increase students understanding of how their food is grown. PHOTOS COURTESY OF BELLINGHAM SCHOOLS

“We’re showcasing where healthy food originates,” Brown said. “Kids will be able to see into the kitchen and to see their food being prepared versus an assembly line approach. Now, you show up, put out your tray, there’s your sloppy Joe or whatever.”

Bellingham has largely embraced the smarter lunchroom challenge. “The cafeteria is the one space that every single kid, every single grade, is in every day,” Wellness Director Jessica Sankey said. “Yet, no one owns the space as a learning space. We’re working to fix that.”

Bellingham’s Farm to School grant projects are a sign of bigger things to come. The district’s bond-funded central scratch kitchen is the biggest of them all. When the kitchen opens at the remodeled Sehome High School in 2019, school staff will prepare daily lunches from scratch using whole foods, which are minimally processed or refined and free of additives or other artificial substances. Currently, frozen prepared meals are shipped to school cafeterias where they are re-heated and served.bham student lunch web

There is a lot of work to be done before the central kitchen opens and the district shifts to healthier foods. To make the transition, district staff are considering menu changes, procurement, staff training, and infrastructure to support from-scratch cooking. The work is guided by consultant and nationally known chef Ann Cooper. With financial support from Bellingham Public Schools, Whatcom Community Foundation and School Food Support Initiative – a partnership of the Chef Ann Foundation, Whole Foods Market’s Whole Kids and The Life Time Foundation – Cooper visited Bellingham last fall to assess current practices. When the district receives her recommendations, strategic planning will begin on issues such as budgets, equipment, strengthening the Farm to School program, and building a timeline toward the 2019 scratch kitchen opening.

“We are committed to excellence in teaching and learning,” Sankey said. “What we feed kids is a lesson in itself.”

Regional Farm-to-School Guide available

To learn more about Farm to School and the grant-funded cafeteria projects, visit whatcomfarmtoschool.org. The website also has a link to the new Northwest Regional Farm-to-School Guide for parents, teachers, administrators, food service staff, school board members and community organizations in Island, San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom counties. Contact local school districts to get involved with Farm to School or cafeteria advisory committees.

Published in the May 2016 issue of Grow Northwest

Leave a Comment