Farm To School Month: We Support California Farmers
October 15th, 2018
October is Farm To School Month, when school districts around the country step up their local procurement, try in-class taste tests of different produce, and introduce new foods to school meals. Vista Unified School District is no different.
Well, we are a little different. Vista Unified has several Farm To School events and other activities planned this month, but this is nothing new. Vista students have been fortunate to enjoy classroom taste tests, farmers market visits, locally-grown salad bar produce, and school gardens for years as part of a Farm To School vision. WaveCrest Cafe (the Child Nutrition Services department and our individual school kitchen staff) has been increasing farm to school education, local procurement, and school gardening activities all along. For us, it’s not just one month out of the year – it’s an all-encompassing school lifestyle.
This year, we’re working with even more local, regional, and Californian farmers than ever before. One of the challenges of farming is that seasons change and harvests can vary, which can affect menu planning. We’re fortunate to have a wide network of local and small, family farmers across the state who supply us with fresh produce for our menu, making it possible to ensure we’ll have the ingredients we need every day. Take our fresh, homemade salsa for example: the recipe calls for bunches of fresh cilantro. Five different regional farmers supply us with cilantro, so we won’t have to deprive anyone of our famous salsa if one farm has a lower harvest.
Our efforts are paying off. Seven VUSD schools recently won the Gold award in the USDA HealthierUS Schools Challenge. This recognition is for creating healthier school environments through nutrition and physical activity. We had a fun and active awards ceremony, and of course were thrilled to be recognized, but we know we’re not done yet.
Fun fact: San Diego County has more small farms than any other county in the nation!
We want to serve food that’s even more local. The best way to get the most local, fresh, healthy, and delicious food to our kitchens is to grow it ourselves! That’s right, our school gardens aren’t just for appearances. There are currently over 20 school gardens (an impressive 75% of our schools have one!), and last year 3 of those were certified so that we could purchase and serve the produce in WaveCrest Cafe. We want as many of our gardens as possible to be certified so students can eat food they’ve grown themselves. We know, and the students know, that food tastes better when it’s grown locally.
In addition to local farmers, we also work with 12 different local suppliers for the rest of our food items. For example, WaveCrest Cafe pizza dough comes from Colors Pizza and many of our breads and other baked goods come from Baked In The Sun, both right here in Vista. Our milk comes from Hollandia Dairy, the only creamery in San Diego County. Any menu items that aren’t made on campus kitchens are made in our Central Kitchen, which members of the community can tour for free.
There are so many benefits to buying local, regional, and California-grown food. Buying locally helps keep profits in our community and boosts our economy, locally grown food is safer and tastier, local fruits and vegetables expose kids to healthier lifestyles at a young age, provides financial incentives for schools, and so, so many others. We hope you’ll help us support Farm To School this month and every month.