From the Ground Up: Farm to school — trying something new
by Ann M. Evans & Georgeanne Brennan
The Sierra Club recently issued its 2012 Coolest Schools list and UC Davis is number one. Go Aggies! UC Davis is part of a growing national awareness from the first lady to college chancellors to school superintendents about the importance of sustainability in daily operations such as food service, as well as curriculum. Reducing waste, increasing fresh and local product served, and using purchasing power for good is part of sustainability.
According to Dani Lee, Sustainability Manager at UC Davis Dining Services, over the past academic year, UC Davis Dining Services has shifted nearly a quarter of its food budget, equivalent to $1.5 million — toward food that is locally grown within 250 miles from the UC Davis campus, sustainably produced, fair and/or humane. This is thanks to increased student demand and six years of researching and implementing a farm-to-college program emphasizing transparency in our food system.
An idea whose time has come — again — is purchasing food as close to home as possible. In the case of UC Davis, campus grown and produced products are used in the 15,000 meals a day served by UC Davis Dining Services. They highlight campus grown products from Mark Van Horn’s outstanding Student Farm Market Garden, from Russell Ranch, the Olive Center and the Animal Sciences Department as well as locally and sustainably produced foods. These include organic white and brown rice from Marysville based Rue & Forsman Ranch, which is also served throughout the Davis schools for lunch, Clover Stornetta milk and dairy products from the Sonoma area, cage free eggs from Glaum Egg Ranch in Aptos and local and organic produce from our Yolo County growers in the Capay Valley and West Sacramento.
In Yolo County, John Young, Yolo County’s Agricultural Commissioner, is heading up a 60-member Farm to School Yolo task force, chaired by Delaine Eastin, former California Superintendent of Public Instruction and the first state superintendent in the nation to call for a garden in every school. The coalition is working to support all five school districts in Yolo County, plus the Head Start Program, in putting more locally grown foods on the school lunch plate.
The student palate seems to be growing more international as well, taking in different flavor profiles such as Latin, African and Asian American as well as Middle Eastern and Mediterranean. School food service is encouraging kids to try something new. Kathy Olsen, Director of Nutrition Services in Winters, serves fresh jicama with chili powder and fresh salsa made with local tomatoes for her tacos and enchiladas. Rafaelita Curva, Director of Nutrition Services in Davis, has found the dish, “7-Vegetable Moroccan Tangine with Couscous” popular with the students.
Georgeanne and I recently taught a cooking class to food service staff in Oakland Unified School District where the Gumbo we made together was discussed as a possible new menu item for this school year. The recipe, featured here, is from a book we wrote, published by the Berkeley based Center for Ecoliteracy, which launched its Rethinking School Lunch program over a decade ago, and is now heavily involved in professional development of school food service at the k-12 level in California. The book, Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools, is free and downloadable in Spanish and English from their website (www.centerforecoliteracy.org.)
Students across the nation, from Vermont to Hawaii, are being served a wider variety of local, fresh foods for school lunch. Eight hundred people gathered recently in Vermont for a National Farm to School conference to discuss how they serve and process local foods such as fish in Washington State, green beans in Maine and beef in Idaho. At the forefront of the daily preparation are, of course, food service workers who in California alone produce 900 million meals a day. For more information on their stories, see our new blog, “Who’s Cooking School Lunch” (www.whoscookingschoolunch.com).
How all this comes down to what’s on the plate is the job of people such as Linda Adams, Director of Sustainability and Nutrition for UC Davis Dining Services — Segundo Services Center. She designs a new menu each year to welcome the incoming freshman and returning students and staff. She says this year, “Watch for a tasty new house-made black bean burger made with Food Alliance Certified Truitt Brothers Black Beans and local organic Rue and Forsman rice. Also look for spiced up oven fries (think buffalo and wasabi!) plus more Aggie Grown produce. Student Farm veggies and herbs will be featured in the salad bar as well as in lovely infused black teas and still water, healthy beverage options.”
The definition of local product varies from school to school. Districts are now tracking the amount of distance the food they serve travels to get to the plate. Dani Lee, also co-chair of the UC system-wide Sustainable Food Service Working Group, says, “ Since formalizing a policy on sustainable foodservice practices in 2009, which incorporated the goal of sourcing 20 percent sustainable food on all UC campus by the year 2020, the University of California (UC) has shifted just over 14 percent of total food spend, over $12.5 million each year, in all dining programs system wide towards local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources as of August 2012.
In addition to the National Farm to School Network, which is heading up a campaign to get the true dollar value of local foods served in school districts (www.farmtoschoolmonth.org) in time for October, which is National Farm to School Month, also celebrated by some states and communities in September.
There are student run campaigns to get more sustainable food on their plates as well. According to Dani Lee, one of the most integral and successful of these student-run campaigns is the Real Food Challenge, a nation-wide grassroots network of youth and universities working to shift $1billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food and towards local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources — what they call “real food”— by 2020. Real Food Challenge has representation at over 363 colleges, universities and high schools in the nation.
As the new school year is launched, school officials and leaders in Davis, Yolo County, and across the nation have much to celebrate in terms of progress made in becoming cool schools, and as Sierra Magazine suggests, also a long way to go. Yet the vision is clear and the goals are calibrated. UC Davis is a national leader in raising the bar about what a public institution can achieve if it prioritizes sustainability.
Flavor profile: African
This flavorful soup has to have Andouille sausage — nothing can serve as a substitute for the Andouille spices that infuse the entire soup. Gumbo is cooked in as many different ways as there are families in Louisiana, its place of origin. Some gumbos are fished based, others meat based, though all contain okra, which helps thicken the base of the soup. If possible, make your own chicken broth since the broth is very important to the depth of flavor. To allow the flavors to fully blend, prepare the gumbo a day ahead.
2 tablespoons canola or other light oil
1 3-4 pound chicken, cooked with meat removed or 1 pound of chicken meat (white or dark)
¾ pound Andouille sausage, sliced on the diagonal about 1/3 inch thick
½ pound ham, diced
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried 2 bay leaves
2 yellow onions, chopped coarsely
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 32-ounce can whole stewed tomatoes with juice, chopped
1 quart low fat, low sodium, chicken broth
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 pound fresh okra, chopped into one inch pieces
Scant 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
½ cup long grain rice
Putting it together
Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. When it is hot, add the chicken, sausage, ham, parsley, thyme and bay leaves and sauté, turning until the chicken and sausage are lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Add the onions and garlic and continue to sauté until the onions are translucent, about three minutes more. Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, celery, okra, cayenne and rice. Stir, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rice in tender, about 30 minutes.
Suggestion – Add precooked shrimp several minutes prior to serving.
(Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan are coauthors of “The Davis Farmers Market Cookbook, Tasting California’s Small Farms,” 2012. Co-leaders of Slow Food Yolo, they have a food and agricultural consultancy, Evans & Brennan, LLC, specializing in farm fresh food in school lunch. Reach them at email@example.com.)