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

K-12 foodservice participating in federal nutrition programs soon could fall into some extra cheese. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is set to buy 11 million pounds of cheese to raise plummeting prices, the result of a dairy glut. The acquired product will be distributed to federal nutrition programs, which might include WIC, SNAP and Child Nutrition Programs, and food banks.

The purchase falls short of a call from Congress, unions, special interest groups and commodity organizations for a $150 million buyout of dairy assets to mitigate the 35% drop in dairy revenues—a 30-year...

Ideas and Innovation
cardboard takeout box

The death knell keeps ringing for polystyrene containers. A story Monday in the Chicago Tribune reports that a man who provided free recycling for the foam products in 10 area communities is shutting down his services, citing expense and logistical difficulties, and leaving few options for diverting the material from landfills.

“From a business perspective, there is no market for [recycled polystyrene foam]. It's difficult to sell,” Beth Lang, facilities and general services manager at the Recycling Drop-Off Center in Naperville, Ill., told the Tribune. “The second reason, and more...

Industry News & Opinion

Students at Martin Luther College will be able to cook their own food in the cafeteria this year, thanks to the addition of a new self-cook station installed during the cafeteria’s renovation, The Journal reports.

In addition to the self-cook station, which contains induction cookers, the revamped cafeteria at the New Ulm, Minn., school will include new pizza equipment, a panini grill, tiled floors, poured countertops and new arrangements to make the cafeteria appear more open.

"We wanted to make it look more like a restaurant and not like a cafeteria," Director of Dining...

Industry News & Opinion

Two chefs at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., are trying to help solve the Mars food dilemma, myfoxspokane.com reports .

Just outside the school’s cafeteria, Executive Chef Timothy Grayson and his partner, Christine Logan-Travis, are trying their hand at growing tomatoes, oregano, basil and other plants in Martian Regolith Soil, the closest soil on Earth to that found on the fourth planet from the sun.

All of the plants in the Mars-inspired garden are intended for human consumption.

“It is a reality that at some point, if man goes to Mars, they will need to...

FSD Resources