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

Industry News & Opinion

Italian food hall chain Eataly is making plans for a 2018 initial public offering in its home country, according to a report this week in Financial Times.

The company plans to list shares on the Italian stock exchange in Milan “as early as next year,” Eataly Executive Chairman Andrea Guerra told Financial Times .

Eataly is eager to expand the presence of its massive Italian food emporiums in the U.S., which have helped spur the growing food hall trend . The company has five locations here, with two in New York City and one each in Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston. Financial...

Industry News & Opinion

Students staffing the foodservice department at Rutgers University will soon get an hourly pay bump, as the New Brunswick, N.J., university is raising its wage for student workers to $11 an hour, philly.com reports.

The increase will go in effect Jan. 1 and will impact 13,000 students.

The fight to raise wages at the school was spearheaded by student group United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), which is continuing to push the university to increase student wages to $15.

The fight for a $15 wage for student workers has spread at schools throughout the country,...

Industry News & Opinion

After shutting down 265 schools due to ongoing wildfires, the Los Angeles Unified School District kept three schools open on Friday and Saturday to provide meals for students and their families, the Los Angeles Times reports.

At one of the schools, employees and volunteers handed out around 100 meals on Friday and 270 meals on Saturday. The meals included items such as dragonfruit punch, raisins, bananas, sunflower kernels, whole-grain cinnamon graham crackers, sunflower seed butter and fat-free chocolate milk.

Around 80% of students in the district come from low-income...

Sponsored Content
Breakfast chili

From Bush’s Best®.

While decadent plates of French toast and pancakes stacked high will always be breakfast favorites, it’s undeniable that savory breakfast items are on the rise in many foodservice operations. Menu items such as avocado toast and omelets aren’t new, of course, but consumers’ preferences for better-for-you food choices, along with their desire for global flavors, are driving this trend.

According to a recent Technomic Breakfast report, consumer demand for vegetarian ingredients has led to an increase of ingredients like soy, tofu, beans, lentils, seeds,...

FSD Resources