Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Taste Washington Day celebrates farm fresh food in schools statewide

Christopher Iberle
Regional Markets

First Lady Trudi Inslee visits with students in the Cordata
 Elementary school garden, supported by Common Threads.
Imagine all the all the good things you could do if people got together to connect school lunchrooms with local farms that grow the food.  You could:
  • Feed thousands of school children with nutritious, local foods. 
  • Teach students about where their food actually comes from. 
  • Connect farmers with a growing local market.
  • Begin to bridge the gap between our urban and rural communities.

First Lady Trudi Inslee visits with students in the Cordata
 Elementary school garden, supported by Common Threads.
Here in Washington, partners and advocates for children’s health and education, agricultural business vitality, farmland preservation, environmental protection, and poverty alleviation have made that vision a reality with farm to school -- and it’s flourishing.

Today’s Taste Washington Day event brought a wide-ranging group of people together – everyone from school lunchroom staff to Washington State First Lady Trudi Inslee - in celebration of the farm to school collaboration.  

Preparing red peppers for Taste
Washington Day lunch at
 Bellingham Public Schools. 
“Taste Washington Day is a great way for students to make the connection between farmers and the healthy food that is critical in helping them to learn, grow and develop,” said First Lady Trudi Inslee. “It’s also is a fantastic opportunity to spotlight the hundreds of crops we have here in our state and to recognize the people who grow them.”

Governor Jay Inslee issued a proclamation for the day recognizing the values of school meal programs and the contributions made to them by Washington state agriculture.

WSDA Regional Markets works with dozens of partners to help connect farmers with school districts. Working with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the Washington School Nutrition Association, they coordinate the annual Taste Washington Day promotion of farm to school connections. This year more than 40 school districts statewide served a Washington grown meal to help celebrate how Washington farmers provide food for schools year-round.

Farmers statewide participate in Taste Washington Day

The Washington Apple Crunch!
Eighty-seven farmers signed up to take  part in this year’s Taste Washington Day and partnered with a school to provide seasonal, local ingredients for breakfast or lunch, or visit a school for lunch. About 240,000 students at 43 participating schools ate a locally-sourced meal, learned about Washington agriculture, worked in a school garden, or did other farm to school activities.

Many schools also did a “Washington Apple Crunch” to celebrate one of Washington’s top crops, by simultaneously crunching into farm fresh apples all across the state at noon.

"We love the rich impact that community food systems offer our society”, said Eric Abel, owner of Bellewood Farms which sells to multiple districts in Whatcom County. “We believe it's important children learn how food gets to the table. By selling to schools, we hope kids will discover the difference that ‘local’ can have—providing fresh food, great taste, improved nutrition, all while supporting farms in the local community in which they live."

First Lady Trudi Inslee joins the celebration

Students, teachers and staff in Bellingham Public Schools welcomed a few special guests for their Taste Washington Day events. First Lady Trudi Inslee visited Bellingham Public Schools’ (BPS) new Central Kitchen, which is serving locally sourced, scratch-cooked meals across the district.

On the menu: salmon cakes, bean salad, pilaf with
 farro, apples, and milk.
The Central Kitchen is a facility years in the making, with support from BPS administration, school board, food service staff, students and parents, Whatcom Farm to School, WSDA Farm to School, Whatcom Community Foundation, Common Threads, and other local partners. The new scratch cooking kitchen and menu allows BPS to use a wider variety of seasonal ingredients from Washington farms. On the menu for Taste Washington Day were salmon cakes with Lummi Island Wild salmon and Cloud Mountain Farm Center onions, pilaf with farro from Bluebird Grain Farms and beets from Joe’s Garden, farm fresh apples from Bellewood Farms, and a local cabbage and kale on the salad bar.
First Lady Trudi Inslee tours Bellingham Public Schools'
Central Kitchen with Director of Food Services and
Executive Chef Patrick Durgan on Taste Washington Day.

Mrs. Inslee also visited Cordata Elementary to see food and agriculture educators from Common
Threads giving lessons in the garden. Produce from the 19 school gardens supported by Common Threads is also served in cafeteria salad bars during the school year. To top off the visit, Mrs. Inslee visited the new Sehome High School to tour BPS Career and Technical Education (CTE) sites related to food and agriculture education.

School market in Washington State

The USDA Farm to School Census estimates that Washington school districts spend more than $17 million on Washington grown foods each year. But this only makes up about 9% of an average school’s food budget. There’s plenty of opportunity to grow the school market for Washington farms - especially in a state that grows over 300 different products, many available year round.
Keith Carpenter from Lummi Island Wild, Chef Patrick Durgan
 from Bellingham Public Schools Central Kitchen, Eric Abel from
 Bellewood Farms, Chris Iberle, WSDA Farm to School Specialist,
 Mataio Gillis, Bellingham Public Schools Central Kitchen, fisher
 Ellie Kinley from Lummi Nation, and First Lady Trudi Inslee
 visit Sehome High School’s CTE kitchen classroom.
For smaller and direct marketing farms, schools can be a particularly meaningful market that provides a regular, larger volume buyer.  Many farmers find it personally rewarding to know their food is being eaten by people in their local community.  Farmers selling to schools also make an impact by teaching kids about agriculture in urban and rural districts of all sizes, and helping schools put nutritious, fresh meals on the tray for students each day. About half of school districts in the state participate in farm to school in some way each year.

“Local agriculture plays an important role in Child Nutrition Programs in Washington State”, said Leanne Eko, Director of Child Nutrition Services at OSPI. “Learning about where their food comes from and getting to taste local foods in school meals promotes lifelong healthy eating to our children and supports local farmers.”