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

Menu Development
frozen raspberries

“As a chef, I pretty much have grown up through the business thinking that fresh was always better—produce, fish and meats, especially,” says Ryan Conklin, executive chef for UNC Rex Healthcare’s culinary and nutrition services. “But the more ‘re-educated’ I get, the more I’m learning that some frozen options may be more appropriate for me to be using on my menus.”

Right now, the perception of frozen foods doesn’t match the reality, especially for high-volume foodservice operators, says Conklin. Often, chefs and operators picture not-great product that’s been sitting in a block of...

Sponsored Content
Roasted Beet Salad Pickled Blueberries
From Blueberry Council.

What’s trending in the culinary world? The basics! According to the NRA, diners today are craving authenticity, simplicity and freshness on menus. But basic ingredients don’t have to lead to boring menu options.

It’s easy to fall into the latest craze to capture consumer attention and drive sales. But we’ve learned it’s not always about novelty. Instilling a feeling of nostalgia and familiarity by using well-known and well-loved ingredients in new, experimental dishes can lead to an increase in adventurous dining decisions, while staying in your customers’...

Ideas and Innovation
chicken herbs

We make and broadcast short YouTube videos on TV monitors to educate our customers about cooking techniques, like how to cut up a chicken or what herbs and spices go well together. The monitors also are used to display daily menus, nutritional and allergen information, upcoming foodservice events and local weather forecasts.

Managing Your Business
wurster west may 2016

At a nearly 150-year-old university, every stone column and classroom has treasured stories to tell. But with that history come the logistical challenges of operating in outdated spaces—especially for foodservice. Such is the case at University of California at Berkeley, where longtime cafe Ramona’s in Wurster Hall closed in March to make way for an updated, as-yet unnamed concept.

With little more than a steam table and coolers, Ramona’s was limited by its lack of ventilation. And, as a former classroom space, it never was intended to function for foodservice, says Jennifer Wolch...

FSD Resources