While farm-to-table has become a growing trend in the foodie world, Farm to School (F2S) programming has also grown in our local public school systems. 

Image: AnSyvanych.
What is F2S exactly? 

F2S consists of three elements:

  1. Purchasing local foods as part of the school meal program
  2. Nutrition education
  3. School gardens

San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) Food and Nutrition Services started incorporating F2S back in 2010 by placing salad bars in all of their cafeterias. Today, they are recognized nationally as leaders of F2S and participate in local food purchasing initiatives such as Harvest of the Month and California Thursdays, which provide students with fresh,  nutritious meals cooked from scratch. In addition, they provide opportunities for nutrition education and school gardens.

Harvest of the Month (HOTM) encourages school food services to feature locally grown, in-season produce every month as part of their lunch program. HOTM is served on Wednesdays in SDUSD school cafes. Some examples of SDUSD’s HOTM include a variety of stone fruit such as apricots, nectarines, and plums in the summer, red-flame grapes and persimmons in the fall, and kumquats and peewee avocados in the spring.

This winter, for the months of December, January, and February, students across the district will receive persimmons, golden kiwis, and Minneola tangelos as part of their lunch. Typically, nutrition assemblies or cafeteria taste-testing events complement HOTM offerings. During the pandemic, the district F2S program specialist hosted virtual HOTM tastings. In these events, students learn about the HOTM’s nutritional benefits, watch a video about the farm and farmer, and sometimes practice a mindful eating exercise. 

SDUSD Food Services strives to purchase as much California Food for California Kids (CFCK). This initiative from The Center for Ecoliteracy, a school food advocacy organization based in Berkeley, CA, is an expansion of the initiative California Thursdays, which serves meals that are entirely sourced from within the state to students on Thursdays. SDUSD’s California Thursday meal is a roasted free-range Mary’s chicken drumstick (raised in Sanger, CA) that’s seasoned with a chile-lime blend (SDUSD uses a low-sodium seasoning made just for students) and served with whole-grain bread from Giovanni’s Bakery in Carson, CA. Students will grab this entree and head over to the salad bar where a varied and colorful array of fruits and vegetables wait to accompany their meal. Scratch-made spicy pickled carrots are a student favorite from the salad bar.

Image: Maria Hesse.

Why is F2S so awesome?

First, school food services like SDUSD are encouraged to support local farmers and food producers. Sourcing locally not only means food is more fresh and nutritious, but it also pushes for more scratch-cooked meals. This is especially exciting because California just passed School Meals For All: Starting this school year, all students in California can receive school meals at no cost.  

Second, nutrition education and school gardens (the other two elements of F2S) introduce students to healthy eating habits, culinary and gardening skills, and enhanced understanding of the environment. 

SDUSD, as well as many other districts, offer opportunities for school gardens to connect with the cafeteria through programs like Garden to Cafe, which allows school-grown produce to be served in the salad bar. Another program, Cafe to Compost, supports the collection of cafeteria produce scraps to be composted at school sites.

What’s the best way to support your district’s F2S program?

It’s simple: Eat school meals. More student participation means more reimbursement dollars from the USDA, which funds child nutrition programs. This money goes not only to purchasing local food but also to updating kitchen equipment and training staff.

You can watch all of SDUSD’s virtual HOTM field trips on YouTube, SD Unified Farm to School.

To learn more about what reimbursement means in school food, watch this video in English and Spanish.

Note: Due to food and staff shortages as a result of the pandemic, SDUSD’s current school lunch menus do not entirely reflect everything noted here. While salad bars have been paused for the moment, HOTM and a variety of fresh produce and packed salad options are still offered to students. SDUSD thanks the community for continued support, understanding, and patience in rebuilding the F2S program. 

Image: Zaikina.

Mindful Eating Exercise

Questions to consider for mindful eating

Try mindful eating as a family or on your own. This activity is great for practicing slowing down when we eat to taste and appreciate the food nourishing us. Afterward, reflect and encourage sharing to discuss what you tasted.

  1. What does your food or snack look like? (size, colors, shape)
  2. What does it feel like? (soft, hard, smooth, wrinkly) 
  3. Does it have a smell
  4. Now, let’s take a bite and taste.

Adjective Word Bank to Help Get You Started

Smooth | Fuzzy | Bumpy | Firm, Hard | Heavy | Light | Crunchy, Crisp | Soft | Mushy | Fruity | Juicy | Dry | Tart, Sour, Tangy | Delicious | Yummy | Tasty | Mild

Make Roasted Chile-Lime Chicken Drumsticks and Spicy Pickled Carrots

Bring this story to life at home and make Roasted Chile-Lime Chicken Drumsticks and Spicy Pickled Carrots at home.

Recipe for Roasted Chile-Lime Drumsticks

Recipe for Spicy Pickled Carrots

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About the Contributor
Janelle Manzano
Janelle Manzano is the Farm to School Program Specialist with San Diego Unified’s Food & Nutrition Services. She has been in this role for about three years while pursuing a master’s in public health from UC San Diego. She received her BS in clinical nutrition from UC Davis and taught nutrition, garden, and culinary education in Oakland, CA, through a service year with FoodCorps AmeriCorps. Her experience in connecting nutrition, health, food, and sustainability through education and promotion has shaped her interest in Farm to School programming. You can follow her work with SDUSD on Instagram @sdfarmtoschool.