written by Amy W. (This is the first of her posts, you can look forward to more on this topic!)
Last week I attended my first Dining Facilities Meeting for Dover Public School District. It’s an honor to be accepted to this committee as a future parent—my daughter is 2 and my son 5 months old. Our family has several years before we’ll officially cross Garrison school grounds. So why does public school food matter so much to me? Here are a few thoughts.
- I’m a lunch lady in my own home and my daughter is a diverse eater, sometimes veggies at the forefront of her dinner plate. Although finicky at times (she is two!), she always comes around and sometimes surprises us with her distinguished palate.
- Dover school kids are served more or less highly processed food and produce from the West or Midwest. Produce not picked at the peak of ripeness and lengthy travel time diminishes flavor and nutrients. Thanks to a culinary degree, I have the insight and “foodie” credentials to make this statement.
- Although our household isn’t perfect, we aspire to live sustainably and would like to encourage others, especially institutions catering to kids, to do so.
- Schools should offer a well rounded education. Lost within our culture, American children need to be reintroduced to a simpler, rewarding lifestyle—well prepared food from a local farm (yes kids, a carrot grows in the dirt and that’s not icky), taste, and the art of dining or conversation over a well prepared meal with family and friends. Schools have a lot to shoulder in the broader category of education and this could be a controversial grey area. To counterpoint, parents are ultimately responsible to feed their children a healthful diet, but that’s not happening. Can our schools come to the rescue to save children and local farmers alike?
- Nationally 16 percent of school aged children and adolescents are overweight—a figure that has risen three-fold since 1980. 1 Between 70 and 80 percent of overweight children and adolescents remain overweight or become obese as adults. We’re told that the obesity epidemic also links to skyrocketing rates of other illnesses like diabetes. Responsible adults should take care of their kin, not kill them.
- I’ve heard excuses like kids are served Oreos and boxed mac-n-cheese at home. That’s what they like and eat, and therefore that’s what they are served at school. Not so! That’s what they know. I won’t denounce, it’s a challenge to feed kids, especially when on the go, but it is worth the effort.
The point of blogging about this experience it to help others interested in starting farm-to-school programs. By keeping up with what is happening in Dover, some folks might be inspired to leap forward in another district or join the volunteer cause in Dover.
The Dover Dining Facilities Council is headed by the district Business Manager and is made up of the Director of Food Service, a school board member, school nurses and parent volunteers. This particular group of parents and nurses, anyway, is fired up and looks forward to seek positive change—more vegetables (hopefully local) on school lunch tables.
At the meeting, Nathan Duclos, NH Farm to School Program Coordinator from University of New Hampshire Office of Sustainability gave a presentation on the NH Farm to School program. Mark Saunders, owner of Saunders Fruit and Produce was also present and shared a few words on distribution issues.
Basic challenges to overcome: build a plan with measurable results that will work for this specific district; establish a farm-to-distributor-to-school system; devise new recipes and create new menus to accommodate the local produce; cost, will it cost more to pay local?; figure out how best to market new food items to students (elementary, middle and high school-age); educate students (again, different ages) on the health benefits of eating more vegetables and fruits, and about local farming and food in general.
Nathan Duclos made it clear that each of these areas is a huge task in itself, not to be taken lightly. To be successful, the group needs to focus and make small-scale change, an example, serve kale on the menu in 2008. The group is up for the challenge, and despite the hefty workload, we learned something inspiring—Dover schools still have fully equipped kitchens!—anything can happen. We meet next at Dover high school for a group kitchen tour… hairnets not required.