Donna Martin’s #FarmtoSchool Success in Burke County, Georgia

2017-04 Policy To Plate Donna

Donna Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, addresses the 2016 Policy to Plate meeting in Washington, DC

On June 1, 2017, Donna Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, FAND, became President of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. In this prestigious volunteer position Donna will lead over 100,000 credentialed practitioners including registered dietitian nutritionists, dietetic technicians, registered, and other dietetics professionals, into the second century of the Academy – focused on a global vision of “A world where all people thrive through the transformative power of food and nutrition.”

Donna’s day job is equally important: She is Director of the School Nutrition Program for Burke County Public Schools, Georgia. Donna’s passionate belief in the transformative power of nutrition is deeply felt in Burke County, which has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the US. She has brought local produce – and local whole grain grits – into the cafeterias and started farmers markets for families and school staff. Her work to transform school nutrition in rural Georgia was recognized the White House and, in April 2016, First Lady Michelle Obama and Al Roker visited Burke Middle School to help plant the school garden. Her efforts to reduce food waste and support local farmers were recognized with top honors in the 2016 Georgia Organics Gold Radish Awards.

I was fortunate to visit Burke County Schools in April 2017 to personally see (and taste) the fruits (and veggies) of Donna Martin’s labors. My day started with a delicious grab-n-go breakfast Yogurt Parfait featuring blueberries, strawberries and bananas at Burke County Middle School, followed by a classroom Charlie Cart nutrition-cooking lesson. The fourth graders made delicious mini-strawberry shortcakes from scratch – with local berries, of course. My next stop was the best – a Georgia Grown lunch at Waynesboro Primary School, featuring local White Acre peas, collards, strawberries, cornbread, chicken and milk. This was Southern school food at its best and, if you are ever near Waynesboro, Georgia, I highly recommend that you visit for lunch.

Waynesboro Lunch

Waynesboro Elementary School Georgia Grown School Lunch

Donna Martin has long been a role model for everyone in the Georgia School Nutrition Association. Now she is an inspiration to all Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics members who want to be actively involved in transforming food systems across the country and around the world.

You can follow Harvest Bright, Burke County’s Farm to School Program on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

#SchoolLunch is GREAT in GREELEY

Blog 0 Shayla

First grader Shayla chooses flavorings for her egg pop. 

There are three great reasons to share my recent visit to Greeley-Evans School District 6 in Colorado. First, there has been lots of recent attention to school lunch acceptability and food waste related USDA school meals nutritional standards. Secondly, it is School Nutrition Employee Wellness Week culminating on May 5, with School Lunch Hero Day. And, finally, farm to school remains one of the hottest trends in school meals.

Blog2 Salad Bar

Greeley Central High School salad bar is well-loved. 

Greeley-Evans School District 6 Nutrition Services is dedicated to getting delicious school food into hungry kids. In a district with 22,000 students (67 percent eligible for free or reduced meals) located in a population-boom town (4th fastest growth in the US), everything starts in a 12,000 square foot central production facility where nearly 100 percent of the district’s meals are prepared from scratch and sent out in bulk to schools. On my tour with district Chef Matthew Poling, I saw pallets of local Colorado red-skinned potatoes, boxes of frozen local, grass-fed beef, and 50-gallons drums of canned tomatoes direct from a California farm – as well as a commercial-sized chili roaster and a walk-in cooler of fresh produce. Why then do I have a photo of a messy salad bar with half empty containers? Because the high school students took – and ate – the produce. When I arrived at Greeley Central High School, it was standing room only on the Tierra Del Sol line. They actually they ran out of the burrito that I wanted for lunch (I did not go hungry; I enjoyed a Fuego Cheese Steak from the famous El Fuego Food Truck).

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Greeley-Evans School District 6 celebrates all their school lunch heroes. 

Before I ever entered a school, Director Danielle Bock gave me my very own School Lunch Hero Day button (distributed to every team member this week). During our tour, Danielle and I started with egg pop tasting in Chappelow K-8 Magnet School’s cafeteria at 7:30 AM and ended at a student-run coffee kiosk in Greeley West High School at 2:30 PM. During the intervening hours, I met dozens of school nutrition heroes – serving pancakes with mixed berry compote, explaining their Dance Party kits from the award-winning Student Wellness Program, scrubbing potatoes in the central kitchen, customizing sub sandwiches for teens, working the El Fuego Food Truck (and preparing my lunch), and sampling coffee with teen entrepreneurs at their student-run business.

Blog 4 Egg Pop

Director Danielle Bock helps Chappelow students choose flavorings for their egg pops. 

Greeley-Evans School District 6 is also a National Farm to School Network super-star – nearly 25 percent of their food purchases are local, with the rate increasing each year. The Greeley-Evans School District 6 Farm to School goals are ambitious and obviously achievable!

  • Continuously expanding local produce offerings during breakfast, lunch and in Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program sites
  • Sourcing milk from local dairies
  • Integrating locally-raised beef and chicken into meals
  • Expanding and improving school garden programs
  • Increasing Farmer in the Classroom and Chef in the Classroom programming
  • Partnering with other Northern Colorado school districts to develop efficient and effective systems, like the USDA-funded District 6 Food Hub, to work with local producers

My day at Greeley-Evans School District 6 Nutrition Services was filled with enthusiastic school nutrition heroes, satisfied student customers, fresh food served with a smile, and support for the new frontiers of school food: think egg pops, food trucks, house-made hot sauce and coffee kiosks for teen entrepreneurs. I salute every staff member – and hope I can go back for lunch soon!

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For details about these farms and links to their social media, go to goo.gl/ZUrbNR

Hot Supper Meals at LA Unified

This is no April Fool’s joke. I am rebooting the School Meals That Rock blog – starting with my spring visits to school districts around the country. I may throw in a few other school food-related topics as 2017 moves along. If you have an idea you’d like me to cover, just post a reply below and I promise to respond as soon as possible.

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1-Outdoor EatingSupper programs are one of the newest USDA Child Nutrition programs – and they sometimes do not get the same level of coverage as the more familiar breakfast and lunch programs. They are, however, critically important to the at-risk children that receive them. If they did not have a supper meal at school, this students might very well eat snack foods from a corner store, a fast food dinner, or – in the worst-case scenario – no supper at all.

2-Fabi CartOn March 16, I had the privilege of seeing hundreds of hungry children enjoy the fuel they needed for afterschool homework and other enrichment activities. Los Angeles Unified School District Food Services Division (LAUSD) has rolled out a hot supper service in over 100 schools with more in the works, including Belvedere Elementary. Located in East Los Angeles, Belvedere has wide airy hallways decorated with murals and a staff dedicated to providing students what they need to become: Thinkers. Leaders. Changemakers. Every one that I met – the assistant principal, the school foodservice staff, the afterschool teachers, parents and children – was enthusiastic about the hot supper meals. Since beginning the hot options, supper participation has more than doubled and waste has decreased markedly.

LAUSD uses a variety of packaged hot items, along with milk, fresh fruit and veggies, which are easily delivered by carts at several sites in the hallways and outside eating area. All the hot and cold supper items meet LAUSD’s strict nutrition guidelines and are popular with their customers. It was such a pleasure to see LAUSD’s hot supper program in operation at Belvedere Elementary. I was impressed by the efficiency of the school nutrition staff in serving hundreds of hungry children – giving them plenty of time to enjoy their meals while chatting with friends and family members. This program is working because of the commitment by the entire school community to insuring that at-risk students received the nourishment they needed for the afternoon and evening. With LAUSD’s dedication to the highest quality food options, Belvedere’s food services team was clearly feeding bodies and fueling minds with smiles on their faces.

3-Dayle RocendoMy sincerest thanks to Ivy Marx, LAUSD Senior Nutrition Specialist, and Rocendo Gonzalez, Belvedere Cafeteria Manager, for hosting my visit to Belvedere – and for nourishing children well at school. Next time I visit LAUSD, I would love to meet Joseph Vaughn, the new Director of Food Services, so that I could thank him personally for this innovative and successful hot supper program.

Georgia on My Mind: #GoldenRadish, #LeafItToSpinach, #HealthiestSchools, and #HarvestBright

I’ve been waiting for the right inspiration to kickstart my blog again. I got it on Monday at the 2016 #GoldenRadish ceremony in the Georgia State Capitol. I was beyond honored to speak briefly about the 53 districts, representing over 39 million school meals featuring both regional and local Georgia Grown products, 8246 farm to school taste tests, 575 school gardens and so much more. The number of #GoldenRadish awards have expanded dramatically since the original 30 in 2014. The #GoldenRadish committee keeps adding new categories – Outstanding District award in 2015 and a planned 2017 Platinum award – challenging districts to grow better and better farm to school programs.leafittospinach

At Statham Elementary School, a site in the Gold Level #GoldenRadish Barrow County School Nutrition District, Diana Cole and her special needs students have explored #LeafItToSpinach as part of their October #FarmToSchool Month lessons. As I entered the classroom Tuesday, they were reading Sylvia’s Spinach before tasting Spinach Lasagna, enjoying the Spinach Brownies they had made themselves, and going out to check on their newly planted spinach seeds in the school garden. 2016-10-25-sylvias-spinachAfter the garden we all enjoyed Georgia Grown Spinach Salad (and carrots too) for school lunch. While award ceremonies feature state officials and fancy plaques, the real work of changing how Georgia’s children eat is moving forward with #onesmallstep at a time in classrooms like Diana’s Cole’s every school day.2016-10-25-statham-lunch

I’ve been following Bibb County Schools – aka Eat Right, Be Bright – for years. Director Cleta Long does an outstanding job and folks know it: SIXTEEN Bibb County Schools were recognized this year among America’s #HealthiestSchools by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Cleta and her staff take their Gold Level #GoldenRadish status seriously with boxes and boxes of local produce served all year round in deliciously appealing ways.apple-collageBibb County’s healthy ways extend beyond the cafeteria to Georgia Grown parades for #FeedMySchool week in hallways, nutrition education in classrooms, science-lessons in school gardens, and real field trips to local farms. In addition to 16 #HealthiestSchools awards, Bibb County was recognized with two Georgia School Nutrition Association #BestPractice awards and ten Let’s Move Active Schools.

#HarvestBright is the new tagline for Burke County Public Schools Farm to School Program, the Outstanding District honored at Georgia Organics 2016 #GoldenRadish ceremony. Director Donna Martin, President-Elect of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, was recently described as the “Ultimate Lunch Lady.” Donna actively promotes the benefits of #FarmToSchool and #SchoolMealsThatRock from the fields of Burke County to the White House Garden. donnaDonna travels the world to promote Registered Dietitian Nutritionists and the Academy, but she is still happiest eating lunch with Burke County Public School students, out standing in collard fields with organic farmer Sam Adderson, or planning new ways to get even more local products, like grits, onto school lunch trays and farmers market shopping bags.

group-photoBarrow, Bibb and Burke counties were just three of the award-winning districts celebrated on the steps of Georgia Capitol on October 24, 2016. There are 50 more districts with dedicated directors from the Atlantic coast to the mountains of north Georgia. How has Georgia Organics been able to successfully grow the #GoldenRadish Awards for all these Georgia districts doing such extraordinary work in farm to school? It’s really pretty simple: Georgia Organics coordinates the #GoldenRadish Awards with the Georgia Department of Education, Georgia Department of Agriculture, and Georgia Department of Public Health, a powerful team to make the dream of local food for local kids work. It’s really no wonder that, according to USDA’s 2015 Farm to School Census, 62 percent of Georgia districts participate in farm to school programs – well above the 42 percent of districts nationwide. For more about all the current award winners and next year’s applications, please visit the Georgia Organics website at https://georgiaorganics.org/for-schools/goldenradish and blog at https://georgiaorganics.org/2016/10/53-georgia-school-districts-honored-farm-school-success/

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Taste Tests Are Terrific

Two FB photos inspired today’s post – both from districts that I admire. The first is from Lessons from the Lunch Lady, aka Wendy Garman who had the pleasure of meeting at SNAPa meeting last summer. Wendy dedicates her page “to all the little minds I have been blessed to refuel and to all the child nutrition employees who make feeding children a priority” – and often shares the darnedest thins that her small customers say.

Today’s Wendy’s photo showcased a Taste Test of simple roasted kale chips. I was impressed that Wendy was even doing a Taste Test during the holiday rush – and even more impressed with the results she reported: “‘I wish you brought more kale! This stuff is great,’ said a third grader sampling roasted kale chips today. I had very low expectations for this sampling as dark green veggies are not usually listed among kids’ favorites. It was exciting to see how willing everyone was to give it a try and even more amazed to learn that nearly 90 percent of the class enjoyed it.” Plus, the kale was a lovely holiday green!

Roasted Kale Chip Taste Test, Lessons from The Lunch Lady

Roasted Kale Chip Taste Test, Lessons from The Lunch Lady

Lesson learned from this Taste Test (and nearly every other one ever done) – children’s reactions to food are often very different that we expect. In fact, the fewer expectations that the adults have, the more likely children are to experience new foods for themselves. Often their reaction is more positive than we expect.

My second inspiration was a series of photos from EATS (Eat Awesome Things at School) Park City from a Taste Test of butternut squash. I was first impressed by the beautifully appealing display of the samples. There are some benefits of serving samples in a resort town like Park City, Utah – the “roasted Butternut Squash was perfectly cooked by the esteemed The Farm Restaurant at Canyons Resort.”

Butternut Squash Taste Test, EATS Park City, Utah

Butternut Squash Taste Test, EATS Park City, Utah

EATS Park City is doing a really terrific job of engaging community support for #RealSchoolFood. I had the pleasure of meeting with EATS Park City last summer and am impressed with how positively they are working with the school nutrition program and other local businesses. The organically grown squash came from Parker Produce, a 140 year old farm in northern Utah – and the Taste Tests are funded by The Park City Community Foundation and the Park City Sunrise Rotary Club

It is important to remember that while the town has many wealthy visitors a significant number of students have not been exposed to fine dining in local restaurants – or to foods like butternut squash. One elementary school student was concern that the squash contained nuts!

Middle School Students Taste Roasted Butternut Squash

Middle School Students Taste Roasted Butternut Squash

Another lesson learned: Children may perceive new foods in ways that we cannot even imagine, especially if the food item is an everyday food for us. While Taste Tests may seem easy enough – just put out samples and have kids eat them, it can also be helpful to take a more structured approach. Fortunately, there are two great resources – both free for downloading – to help you make the most of tasting #RealSchoolFood:

In both these guides you will find tips and forms to make Taste Tests more fun, more successful and more effective in expanding student food horizons. Here are some examples of the forms from the Vermont FEED Guide.

Sample pages from Vermont Feed's Guide To Taste Testing Local Foods In Schools

Sample pages from Vermont Feed’s Guide To Taste Testing Local Foods In Schools

31 days of #RealSchoolFood: Celebrating the Season

Yesterday’s focus on pizza made us think of Elf on the Shelf at school. What’s the connection you ask? It’s the dedicated and creative folks at Billerica (MA) Public Schools Nutrition Services, headed up by April M. Laskey, SNS, Director of School Nutrition and Dina Wiroll, Nutrition Services Site Coordinator. Yesterday Jimmy the Kitchen Elf, from the Kennedy Elementary School enjoyed pizza, milk, yummy salad and an apple with his reindeer friend. What a fun way to connect school meals to seasonal fun that students may also be doing at home.

Jimmy the Kitchen Elm enjoys a complete school lunch at Kennedy Elementary School, Billerica, Massachusetts

Jimmy the Kitchen Elm enjoys a complete school lunch at Kennedy Elementary School, Billerica, Massachusetts

Elves were showing up all over Billerica Nutrition Services this week. On Thursday, as part of Massachusetts Harvest of the Month and BPS Taste it Thursday even the Elf on the Shelf got his yummy roasted carrot ‘fries.’

Elves love Harvest of the Mouth Roasted Carrot Fries in Billerica, Massachusetts

Elves love Harvest of the Mouth Roasted Carrot Fries in Billerica, Massachusetts

Some of Billerica’s everyday ingredients look positively festive. This lovely Kale Garbanzo Bean Salad is simply dressed with parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings. This would look fabulous on a holiday cafeteria line.

Kale Chickpea Salad

Kale Chickpea Salad

Last December, I had the great pleasure of visiting April and Dina – and eating lunch at Frederick J. Dutile Elementary School. I know it was a special occasion – and, I also know that they regularly make colorful appealing vegetable trays like this for their customers (who really dug into this one!).

Vegetable Snowman, Dutile Elementary, Billerica. Massachusetts

Vegetable Snowman, Dutile Elementary, Billerica. Massachusetts

Even the logo for Billerica Schools Nutrition Services is bright and festive! Be sure and follow this dedicate team of school nutrition professionals on Facebook. Happy holidays!

Billerica logo2

Rockin’ School Meal Photos: Post It, Pin It, Tweet It, Eat It (6 of 6)

This is our sixth post about the key elements of taking school food photos that ROCK. We’ve covered Background, Quality, People, Lighting and Contrast. Our goal has been – one step at a time – to get you ready for School Nutrition Employee Week, May 5th thru 9th. Be a HERO, take some great PHOTOS of your employees, your customers and your food.

STEP #6. FOCUS. The final element is, in fact, the most important. You can have a beautiful background, high quality food, adorable children, proper lighting and gorgeous contrasting colors – but if your photo is not in focus, viewers will not get your message. The most important question is: Do you know how to FOCUS your Smartphone (or camera)? If you don’t, learn right now. To find instructions, search the model of your phone or camera and “how to focus” online. If you have an iPhone, the answer is simple: Tap the screen on the area that you want to be in focus. The phone will focus and adjust to the lighting at the same time.

THE GREAT: This photo from Sitka, Alaska, has it all. The blue tray allows the lunch to shine, even though it is not truly colorful. The meal is simple, but obviously good quality, especially when you learn the tacos are made with local fish. The student customer is adorable and clearly enjoying her lunch. There’s good contrast on the tray, nice lighting and the focus is excellent. Thanks to Sitka Conservation Society for sharing the tasty photo and their new Guide to Serving Local Fish in Schools.

Boat-to-school - AKA local fish - is popular in Sitka, Alaska

Boat-to-school – AKA local fish – is popular in Sitka, Alaska

THE MARGINAL: This photo is clearly not in focus. It does however show the rapid movement of lots of middle schoolers through a hallway and their use of a Grab-n-Go Breakfast Cart. If you decide to use a photo like this, it would be good to include another photo with better focus on the cart.

Lots of students moving past a Grab-n-Go Breakfast Cart

Lots of students moving past a Grab-n-Go Breakfast Cart

THE REAL NO-NOS: This is obviously a great lunch line with some great food options and a very proud employee. It just makes us wish that it was in focus.

A lovely line and happy employee are completely lost in the lack of focus

A lovely line and happy employee are completely lost in the lack of focus

HOT TIP: There are lots of other ways, including apps, to improve the performance of your photos on your phone. This article has 10 Tips For Taking Better Photos With Your Smartphone – and there are many more like it online. The best way to take better school food photos is practice, practice, practice – and always focus your phone or camera!