Farm Event Brings Together District, Community

At the Novato Unified School District in California, the child nutrition department is reaching out to the community to help extend the department’s healthy message outside of the cafeteria. Miguel Villarreal, director of food and nutritional services, has worked hard to revamp the district’s menus with healthy food items, and he wanted a way to connect the community to what was taking place in his cafeterias. He did this by organizing gleaning events at local farms.


FoodService Director - Novato USD - gleaning“I read in a book about connecting the three C’s, that are cafeteria, classroom and community,” Villarreal says. “In order for our students and families to understand why we are doing what we are doing [in the department], we all need to deliver the same messages over and over. We know that in the long term, that’s the kind of impact it’s going to take for students and families to understand why this [healthy message] is so critical. What better way for us to deliver that message than by bringing our families out to our local farms?”

For the past five years Villarreal has coordinated gleaning events for families at local farms. Every Monday during harvest season—normally late summer to November—Villarreal, district personnel, students and their families visit farms and harvest crops. The harvested crop is then given, free of charge, to the child nutrition department for use in the school meals program. The gleaning program is done in coordination with Marin Organic, a cooperative of organic farms in Marin County.

The collaboration between Marin Organic and the child nutrition department began when Villarreal started purchasing local produce from the co-op. Villarreal says about 95% of the fruit he serves in his schools is from these local farms. Villarreal says about 25% of his fruit is ultra local—within 20 miles of the district—and he hopes to increase that number to 50% in the coming years.

FoodService Director - Novato USD - gleaning“We’re really making a concerted effort to purchase as much of our food from local growers,” Villarreal says. “I know many [schools] are doing farm to school, but the part that sets us apart is the fact that we’re making an effort to bring many of our families to the farms. We’re making our families aware of the foods being grown and why we are using these particular farms, which are organic. We’re also using this as an opportunity to educate the farmers who didn’t realize that this food was being used in the cafeteria and what that means to the students’ health. The students hear this message about how the soil has to be healthy in order for them to be healthy because you are what you eat. It’s those lessons that are being tied in.”

On Fridays before glean Mondays, Villarreal sends out notices to the community to inform them of where the gleaning event will take place. Carpools to the farm are usually arranged.

Villarreal says he never knows what produce will be available for gleaning until he gets to the farm. “There have been times when we’ve gleaned up to 500 pounds of spinach and that’s been brought back and we can take as much spinach as we want to use in our program,” he says. “It’s gleaned on Monday, delivered [by Marin Organic] on Tuesday and served on our menus on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.”

FoodService Director - Novato USD - gleaningLast year Villarreal started a new Thanksgiving gleaning event, where the community donates the gleaned produce to the city’s food banks to use in their Thanksgiving meals. “School is not in session [during this event] so this really makes it a communitywide event,” Villarreal says. “It’s really a good feed-food story for the entire community.

“Every year [gleaning] has improved,” he adds. “The measure of that is the number of families that we bring out every year increases. This truly is a collaboration of the community and education everybody about why we are doing what we are doing.”

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
chicken wings

We started advertising our chicken wings as halal wings with assorted sauces. Our inspiration was to inform customers of an option that was available but not widely known. By changing our approach to our marketing efforts, we were able to exponentially increase participation in the consumption of our halal menu items.

Managing Your Business
busy kitchen

While catering a wedding for a previous employer years ago, Rahul Shrivastav—now director of catering at University of Michigan—found himself in a panic when an elevator malfunction put salad service on hold. “The wedding was in a very old building and the elevator had issues,” he says. “We had 200 plated salads in the freight elevator when it got stuck. The dinner needed to start—they were doing their toasts.” In a panic, Shrivastav hustled up a plan B: His team would station a chef outside the ballroom, and he’d plate new salads right there.

Luckily, the elevator was fixed in...

Ideas and Innovation
soup sandwich

Aside from Black Friday shoppers, there may be no crowd of people more eager to get to their bounty than wedding guests headed for the passed appetizers. While they’re surely thrilled for the bride and groom, that feeling comes second to the thrill of landing that first shrimp skewer—especially after a long ceremony. Same goes for work-related cocktail parties. Caught up in an awkward conversation? Oh look, it’s the mini-grilled cheese guy!

This month, FoodService Director takes a deep dive into catering, from the latest and greatest in menus to starting a new program at your...

Ideas and Innovation
shrimp lemon

In an interview with Bon Appetit magazine, Victor Clay, a line cook at Nobu Dallas in Texas, reveals his two simple tricks to prep an average of 15 to 20 shrimp per minute.

First, use kitchen shears to split the back of the shrimp. Then, before removing the vein, run the shrimp under cold water, which will loosen the vein. This cuts down on cleaning time, and prevents cooks from having to soak and rinse the shrimp afterward.

FSD Resources