On Aug. 23, 18 Plumas County school food service professionals toured Rugged Roots Farm in Quincy, learned about the Farm to School program funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and shared their insights about the incorporation of farm goods into school food service.
The tour was presented by the Feather River Food System Collaborative, a project recently funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture Office of Farm to Fork. Grant writer Lisa Kelly reported that, through working with the Plumas Sierra County Fair Foundation as its fiscal agent, the project “has created a collaboration with regional food producers and academic institutions to expand the capacity of regional schools to offer locally sourced food, year-round, by providing a central commissary/training kitchen to teach students and staff to procure, preserve, and package farm products.” The Lost Sierra Food Project and Rugged Roots Farm is a primary project partner.
Kelly reported that the intent of this assembly of school food service professionals was to garner input on the design of school food service, including practices and procedures and, most importantly, the considerations of incorporating farm goods into school meals on a consistent basis. “Everyone present agreed that our students need not only farm fresh food but would benefit from exposure to farms and producers beginning at an early age,” said Kelly.
Tracy Darue, nutrition services supervisor for Plumas Unified School District, asserted that this project is primarily about getting healthy food into the bellies of school children. During open discussion, staff expressed concerns about how to get students to embrace healthy new foods and avoid having them end up in the cafeteria trash cans. Staff reported that the practice of asking students for feedback on new foods makes kids more interested in trying new foods, indicates that their opinions matter, and makes them “braver eaters.”
In addition to discussing students, the tour group expressed appreciation for school food service staff. “This event was about honoring food service professionals and their experiences as we embark on this exciting new adventure,” said Cait McCloskey, Feather River Food System Collaborative coordinator. Lost Sierra Food Project farm educator Kari O’Reilly said, “This project would not be successful without the support of school food service folks who work in our school cafeterias as these are the people who feed the children in our community, and they deserve respect and consideration.” Nancy Gambell, Plumas Sierra County Fair Foundation chair, said, “Food service professionals are the folks who know how to feed kids; they are experts, and they are passionate about the youth they serve.”
While participants learned about how the food that will arrive in their cafeteria kitchens is grown, they nibbled on kale and cilantro from the field, asked questions about food preservation and medicinal plants, and drank farm-fresh smoothies that included ingredients they harvested.
“The outcomes of this tour were extremely valuable for achieving the goals of this grant,” said Kelly. She reported that partnering with both the Lost Sierra Food Project and the Plumas Sierra County Fair Foundation has facilitated the mechanism to deliver workshops and hands-on instruction. Feather River Food System Collaborative leaders agree that the ideas and questions brought up at the tour event will “prove invaluable as we all work to see more fresh local food making its way onto kids’ plates,” said Kelly.
For more information about the Lost Sierra Food Project, visit https://www.lostsierrafoodproject.org/.
Information submitted by Feather River Food System Collaborative