FSD talked with three foodservice management firms about their “green” efforts. Find out how Opaa!, Flik Independent School Dining at New York City independent schools and Meriwether Godsey at Sidwell Friends School purchase local produce and beef.
Opaa! Food Management
The Missouri-based management company operates in 82 districts throughout that state. Last fall the company launched several initiatives to increase the amount of local products served in its school meal programs.
Between August and November 2010 Opaa! purchased five varieties of apples from Rasa Orchards, located in Lexington, Mo., which were served at breakfast and lunch three or four times each week.
“Our students responded very positively to the new apples,” says Sheila Frost, vice president of wellness and nutrition. “The quality has been very good. When we had to stop serving the Rasa apples because the growing season was over the students asked when they would get the good apples back.”
The company also partnered with another Lexington operation, Fahrmeier Farms, to bring in local produce such as tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers to the districts in the western half of the state. Frost says most of the produce was used fresh on the salad bars.
Frost says the most difficult part of the farm partnerships was getting the produce to the schools. “There are a lot of growers in Missouri,” she says. “There is product available and they are very interested in getting their products into the school districts. We have schools that want those products in the schools. The problem is being able to distribute them. Last year we used one of our Opaa! vehicles to transport the [produce]. As we have started to grow, we are using some of our major distributors to bring those local products into our schools.”
Along with bringing local produce into the schools, Opaa! has spent a lot of time on the educational piece of the program. At a farm-to-school meeting the company hooked up with the University of Missouri Extension in Lafayette County. The two organizations developed Early Sprouts, for prekindergarten classes, and Food From the Farm, for kindergarten students. The programs are run in three districts in Lafayette County.
Through a grant from the USDA Family and Nutrition Education program the university provides educational kits to the teachers in the programs. The kits contain a curriculum and support materials to help teachers educate their students about nutrition, wellness and foods grown at area farms. Weekly fruit and vegetables samplings are also done in the classrooms. In addition, students have the opportunity to take trips to Rasa and Fahrmeier to learn about the produce they have sampled and how a farm is run.
Parents are encouraged to join their students on the farm trips. “I think a lot of the parents don’t realize what fresh fruits and vegetables are actually grown right there in the area they live in,” Frost says.
Flik Independent School Dining
At eight schools in New York City, Flik Independent Schools is serving local beef. “When we started looking at what’s important to our customers we found that sustainability and caring for the environment were things that the schools deeply cared about,” says Jerry Musillo, regional director for Flik.
Musillo says the schools were already purchasing local produce and sustainably raised seafood, but he says he wanted to take their green initiatives further. When he discovered that Flik’s parent company, Compass Group, had a relationship with Northeast Livestock Processing Service Co. he thought he could start a local beef program with Flik. (NELPSC is a consortium of family farms in upstate New York.) “I don’t know what Compass was using NELPSC for, but the company was a vendor and had been through a quality assurance process,” Musillo says.
Musillo contacted Kathleen Harris, processing and marketing coordinator for NELPSC, to develop the local beef program. Musillo places an order through Harris, who then finds the cows from the farms with whom NELPSC contracts.
The first hurdle Flik’s schools had to work through was ordering. “Kathleen explained that I can’t just call her up and order 10 or 15 flank steaks,” Musillo says. “We have to purchase the entire cow and then Kathleen sources it and books time in a USDA-approved slaughterhouse.”
The next problem was how the beef was going to get from upstate New York to the schools. “They are farmers. They aren’t a meat company or shipping company,” Musillo says. “’I knew how important this was to our clients, so I said, ‘We can at least save you the trip of delivering to all these different schools.’” NELPSC delivers the order to Musillo at one school, and Musillo breaks down the order and takes the individual orders to the other schools.
This started three years ago with Musillo ordering one cow. The program now has expanded so much so that the eight schools call Harris directly to place their orders. “It’s such a big order now that NELPSC can come down and deliver the whole city for me,” Musillo says. “Schools just jumped on it. Some bought extra refrigeration to store the beef.
“What’s great is that the foodservice team is learning how this works,” he adds. “Ordering from local farms is different than calling up your broadliner and placing an order. They are talking to the farmers themselves. They are saying [things like] out of a yield rate of 400 or 500 pounds of beef I could use more of the fajita strips.”
Musillo says the local beef is not an added cost to the programs because the schools were already using all-natural, grass-fed beef, which is more expensive. Due to the popularity of the beef, the schools recently started purchasing lamb and pork from NELPSC.
Stefan Davenport, director of dining services at Friends Seminary School, is one of the schools menuing the local beef. An entrée made with local beef is menued once a week. Burgers, tacos, fajitas, meat sauce and meatloaf are all “home runs,” according to Davenport. Davenport purchases two cows from NELPSC. “This year we’ve been menuing local beef more frequently. The school decided that they wanted to do nothing but this beef. As long as NELPSC can provide it we are going to menu solely local, grass-fed beef,” he adds.
Davenport sends out an email blast to the school population letting them know when the local beef is being menued. When NELPSC delivers the beef it provides information about the farm and how the cow was raised and Davenport shares that information was his students.
“Timing can be a challenge,” he says. “It’s not as easy as picking up the phone and ordering from a vendor. I have to order at least three weeks in advance. This isn’t just a token. We’re a school of only 700 people, but it’s a pretty substantial order for a farmer to get. I think we can really make a difference in the idea of eating locally.”
Leon Stallone, executive chef at the Dalton School, says before NELPSC it was hard to find a truly local beef product. “Some of these people say it’s local, but what’s the definition of local? It was like 400 miles. With NELPSC we’re guaranteed and we know how the cattle is raised and processed.”
Stallone menus protein from NELPSC at least once a week. He also is purchasing lamb and pork for use in items like Moroccan-style roasted lamb with lemons or meatloaf, which is made with a mixture of lamb and beef.
“It was a learning curve,” Stallone says about the ordering process. “When you get a 600-pound side of beef it’s a little weird at first. The first load it was like, ‘where are we going to put it?’ At first Kathleen provided everything [from the cow] for us. We don’t use the heart, but we do take the bones.”
Meriwether Godsey at Sidwell Friends School
At this private school in Washington, D.C, a sustainably focused dining program called Green Cuisine was developed.
The main focus of Green Cuisine is buying locally and, when possible, organic. Like many other programs, produce is the main component of the program. The school has partnered with Mennonite farmers in southern Maryland to purchase local and organic produce, including lettuce, cucumbers, squash and peaches. This particular farm is not certified organic, but Robin Menard, director of dining services for Meriwether Godsey at the school, says the farm practices organic procedures. Menard also has partnered with Toigo Orchards in Shippensburg, Pa., to purchase produce such as apples, pears and tomatoes.
In addition to ordering directly from the farms, the school’s dining program receives local produce from smaller sources as well. Menard participates in a CSA (community supported agriculture) co-op in Virginia, from which she purchases produce weekly. “I’ve got a tennis coach who in the summer brings me tomatoes every Monday from his farmers’ market from a farm out in Maryland,” Menard adds. “We have a lot of different avenues to purchase locally. It’s tough being a city school. It’s hard for the farmers to get in here. We’re not up in Vermont with the plethora of farms. We’re in D.C. and it makes the logistics really challenging.”
The school has expanded beyond produce. It now purchases other items with sustainability in mind. Menard purchases milk from Amish and Mennonite farms in Pennsylvania that raise grass-fed dairy cows. She purchases chicken from farms in surrounding states that have been raised in environmentally friendly houses. Certified-humane, cage-free eggs are purchased, as well as organic bread made from grains raised without fertilizers or pesticides. Menard also purchases all-natural beef that is antibiotic and hormone free.
Menard says one of the important steps in the program was getting all the different farms to source through her prime vendor, Performance Food Group. Menard now purchases her milk, eggs, beef, chicken, and deli meats and cheeses from the prime vendor.
Buying local and environmentally friendly products is but one aspect of Green Cuisine. When there are leftover products, Menard reuses entrée items in salads or soups. She also donates overproduced items to the DC Central Kitchen, a community kitchen that engages in food recycling and meal distribution programs.
Another aspect of Green Cuisine is limiting meat consumption. Menard started Meatless Mondays last school year. She didn’t market it to the students, but she says when they found out they “used it as a platform to get their voices heard. I said, ‘You guys, you like all the stuff we are serving. All of a sudden this comes to light and you make a big deal out of it.’” Menard said she talked with the students about the reasoning behind Meatless Mondays and she has continued the program.
Menard acknowledges that she has to keep an eye on her budget. She said Sidwell told her to purchase as much as she can locally while being fiscally responsible. “I can’t go out and say, ‘Sure, I’m going to buy all organic and pay a third more for everything.’ We pick and choose what to buy organic. Things like potatoes and things that sit in the ground, it’s more important to buy those things organic.”
Menard adds that programs like Green Cuisine can be replicated in public schools that follow the National School Lunch Program. “People look at Sidwell and say, ‘Oh, you’re a private school and you can afford to do whatever you want.’ I think anybody can do it. That’s why you’re seeing the movement in the public school system. One of Meriwether Godsey’s other accounts in this area is a DC charter school and they are on the National School Lunch Program. If you look at their menu and my menu there are a lot of similarities. Do they have the big composition salads? No, because they don’t have the space, but they are doing cooking from scratch and using local products.”