Tony Geraci: Rebel with a Cause

“I was never very good at following the rules,” says Tony Geraci, director of food and nutrition services for 85,000-student Baltimore City Schools. Although this rule bending might have caused him some problems as a child, it’s this attitude that has enabled Geraci to make significant changes to the foodservice operation in his first 12 months with the district.

“I was a bad kid,” Geraci says about his childhood growing up in a rough part of New Orleans. “It was a couple of crazy European chefs who took me aside and said, ‘Look, you’re a knucklehead, but you’ve got real talent and we want to nurture that.’ I think that’s the thing that we forget sometimes. Every kid listens to a different voice, and maybe part of our job should be to hear that voice and nurture kids in a way that speaks to them.”

And that’s exactly what Geraci has done since coming to the district last July. He’s started a farm where students learn hands-on about farming and healthy eating; he’s started school gardens and student-run restaurants; and he’s returning to what he calls “real food” and away from prepared, over-processed products.

“I felt a sense of confidence about his ability to reform what are often very bureaucratic norms in school systems,” says Dr. Andes Alonzo, the district’s CEO. “Tony had the energy, commitment and vision to bring about really good things and to do them relatively quickly.”

Alonzo says Geraci’s drive was one of the main reasons he decided to offer the then vacant director’s position to Geraci in 2008. That, however, was not the first time the district had courted Geraci; he was offered the position several years before but turned it down. When Alonzo was hired in 2007, Geraci accepted the position. “Dr. Alonzo is a visionary and the right leader,” Geraci says. “He has allowed me to do the things that needed to get done to get the program going.”

Great Kids Farm: One of those things Geraci wanted to do was to transform an abandoned 33-acre lot that the district owned. The district was going to sell the lot to a used-car salesman, but Geraci persuaded the administration to let him start a farm on it instead. “The first week on the job, I was handed the keys to the farm and told it was mine to do with as I pleased,” Geraci says. “They also said, ‘We don’t have any money for the farm.’”

That didn’t stop Geraci. With no funding or help from the district, nor any farming experience, Geraci has created an organic farm, named Great Kids Farm, which now hosts hundreds of students each month and has led to the planting of more than 30 school gardens. The farm’s produce is also used in the district’s cafeterias.

Geraci says his business savvy enabled him to get the farm running. “I’m a good businessman. I’m good at finding dollars.” With money provided by the district to hire a dietitian, Geraci hired not only the dietitian but also a farm manager, Greg Strella. Together, Geraci and Strella developed a 16-item “wish list” of things they wanted to accomplish. Those items included planting orchards, populating the farm with chickens, bees and goats and getting commercial clients to help support the farm. Each of the 16 items has been accomplished.

FoodService Director - FSD of the Month - Tony Geraci - Baltimore City Public SchoolsBecause the district provided no funding for the farm, Geraci turned to the community for help. The response, Geraci says, was overwhelming. “The story has really been about a city. I can’t tell you how many thousands of volunteers have come out to work. People want things to get better and they know the only way things are going to change is if they do it themselves.” In addition to volunteers’ manual help, the community also provided donations—and not just monetary ones. The farm’s goats, among other things, were donated by an area farmer.

But the farm doesn’t run on donations alone. The farm generates revenue by growing microgreens, which are sold to local restaurants. “It is important to create sustainable economic models,” Geraci says. “This way we can show the kids there are job opportunities and how food gets from farm to fork.”

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

In a bid to beef up its presence in sports arenas and a variety of other large venues, Sodexo will acquire foodservice vendor Centerplate for $675 million.

Sodexo says the deal, which is expected to be finalized by the end of this year, will more than double its global footprint.

Centerplate, which serves as the foodservice operator for a number for stadiums, convention halls and other event spaces, brought in revenues of $998 million for the year ending June 2017, according to Sodexo. Centerplate was purchased five years ago by Olympus Partners, a private-equity company...

Menu Development
eggs

Loyola University Maryland took a new approach to all-day breakfast with an egg-focused concept.

Breakfast options were top of mind for students when asked what they would like to see on the menu at the university’s revamped Boulder Garden Cafe. Instead of creating an all-day breakfast station, however, the Baltimore-based dining team went beyond traditional options and created a concept that services all mealparts with eggs.

“It can be somewhat mundane,” says Executive Chef Don Crowther on why the team strayed away from the trendy all-day breakfast. At the eatery’s Sunny...

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Kansas has added a retail pass that allows students to purchase one to-go combo meal per day at cafes and markets on campus, the University Daily Kansan reports.

The pass is available on two different meal plans and is geared toward on-the-go students who don’t have the time to sit down and eat at a residence hall.

“It has increased the participation rate,” Jamie Reed, a service assistant for the school’s dining services, told the University Daily Kansan.

Over 1,800 students have used the pass since its debut at the beginning of the semester....

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Minnesota dining team has created a vegan student group in an effort to improve the school’s vegan offerings, Minnesota Daily reports.

The group was created by the school’s foodservice vendor, Aramark, and its campus sustainability coordinator, who is vegan, after receiving numerous complaints from students about the lack of vegan options on campus.

The group will this week host its first meeting, during which members will be able to share feedback and provide solutions to help enhance the school’s vegan offerings. Members will also keep a photo journal...

FSD Resources