Thursday, October 1, 2020

Taste Washington Day 2020 celebrates resilient farm to school connections

 Chris Iberle, Farm to School Lead

Common Threads Farm, Bellingham, school garden harvest.

The tenth annual Taste Washington Day may look a little different this year, but even with challenges associated with remote learning and COVID-19 precautions, it remains true to its mission of celebrating community, connecting students and farmers through school meals, and educating them about where their food comes from.

Across Washington State this year, schools, farms, children, families, school gardeners, agriculture educators, organizations and businesses have come together to support one another, showing strength and resilience in the face of unprecedented challenges.

However school districts adapt their activities for Taste Washington Day, scheduled for Oct. 7, this special day highlights how they provide local food to students in school meals, learn in their schools’ gardens, and educate students about food and agriculture. 

Thirty-six school districts are signed up to participate so far, and working with dozens of Washington farmers and producers to buy food items and ingredients for their meals. School districts and farmers can still sign up online to be a part of the event and share their plans with WSDA.

School nutrition staff have showed heroic, creative, and inspiring efforts to overhaul their school meal programs since the COVID-19 pandemic turned school operations upside down. 

School nutrition programs continue to be a critical food access point providing millions of meals for many children, families and communities statewide, especially during the pandemic. School meals have also provided an opportunity for students to stay connected with their school. 

“Nutrition staff in our districts love greeting the kids when they pick up their meals,” said Janis Campbell-Aikens, Child Nutrition director at Auburn School District and president of the Washington School Nutrition Association. “They have been one constant for the kids, from before COVID-19, and through the spring and summer.”

Coupeville School District boxed pasta lunches with sauce
that includes Washington-raised meat.

New, unique meal needs

The Taste Washington Day theme this year is “What’s in the Bag or Box from Washington?” encouraging schools to feature at least one Washington-grown product in sack lunches or meal boxes distributed to students. 

Local Washington-grown foods have been filling schools’ new, unique needs, as farmers support schools with products that fit grab-and-go meals, such as lunchbox-sized apples or pears, individually wrapped hardboiled eggs, dried cherries, and snacking veggies for sack lunches. 

Schools offering multi-day “grocery box” or recipe kits have added local yogurt, cheese, potatoes, onions, rhubarb, broccoli, and bread to distribution boxes. Districts incorporating scratch cooking into new distribution models, such as prepared meals to heat and eat at home, have featured Washington-grown beef, vegetables, and other cooked ingredients.

Washington Apple Crunch goes virtual!

The Washington Apple Crunch will again be part of Taste Washington Day, albeit virtual this year. Teachers, students and parents are encouraged to participate in the Washington Apple Crunch, and bite into a Washington-grown apple at noon on Oct. 7, and make a statewide crunch to celebrate our state’s agriculture. 

WSDA partners with the Washington School Nutrition Association to organize Taste Washington Day, with support from Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Child Nutrition. Local nonprofits, parents, volunteers, and community partners also work to support Taste Washington Day. 

Together with schools and local farmers, we celebrate Washington agriculture and promote the nutritious foods being served in our schools.