San Diego cultivates farm-to-school harvest

san diego student lunches

Faculty and students enjoy a meal from California Thursdays.

When students in San Diego public schools choose a salad for lunch, there is a good chance they know something about the farms and farmers who supplied the produce. Their knowledge comes from San Diego Unified School District’s Harvest of the Month program, an educational component of its farm-to-school initiative.

Salad bars in 173 schools highlight produce that was grown on farms in San Diego County. Each month, a local fruit or vegetable is featured and students see a short video of a farmer explaining how the produce was grown. For example, last November, the featured produce was organic persimmons from Sahu Subtropicals in Fallbrook, Calif. The district bought the farm’s entire crop—10,000 pounds—of persimmons, which were sliced into wedges and served raw on salad bars.

“Some teachers have been so enthusiastic that they show the videos every month before the Harvest of the Month item is served on the salad bar,” says Ashley Cassat, who handles the district’s farm-to-school education and outreach program.

Currently, 15% of the district’s produce comes from farms in San Diego County, and the rest comes from farms throughout the state. The district communicates to farmers exactly how the produce will be used. This helps to build relationships with local farms, says Kathryn Spencer, who handles the district’s farm-to-school produce acquisition program.

The district also procures hyper-local produce from its Garden Café program. The program, which was developed by the district and the Department of Environmental Health, allows schools to create student-run gardens. Produce is then harvested and included on the schools’ salad bars.

“Students are able to see the fruits of their labor,” Cassat says.

In addition to sourcing produce from farms throughout the state, the district provides its schools with dairy products from Hollandia Farms North in San Jacinto, Calif.

The district also participates in California Thursdays, an initiative led by the Center for Ecoliteracy that encourages schools to provide meals that are completely sourced from California farms. The program is being piloted in 30 schools and students are being offered California-sourced chicken drumsticks, vegetables and rolls.

The district would like to expand the program. However, Spencer says that it will be necessary to upgrade some schools’ kitchen equipment to do so efficiently. The district also plans to source more proteins from local farms in the future.

Another goal of Spencer’s is to create more seasonal-based menus that can take full advantage of the produce grown in the region. The district has already started moving away from some produce not grown in California.

“We will offer [students] an orange grown in San Diego [County] over serving a banana grown in Ecuador,” Spencer says. 

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
student choice

Turkey and cucumber are two ingredients foodservice director Vince Scimone would never have thought to put together. Student judges at Grossmont Union High School District in La Mesa, Calif., however, believe they are a winning combination.

The students selected the combo, which was paired with a spicy Thousand Island dressing and sandwiched between a jalapeno bagel, as the winner of the district’s first Shark Tank competition. The now-annual event pits schools across the district against one another to come up with creative menu items. The new items are judged by students....

Industry News & Opinion

In an effort to address the danger of student allergies , the University of Maryland is looking to make EpiPens available in its dining halls by the time spring break rolls around, The Diamondback reports .

Each dining hall would have multiple two-pack EpiPens on hand, which would cost about $1,000 per eatery, Dining Services Director Colleen Wright-Riva told The Diamondback. The EpiPen initiative would be instituted in partnership with the College Park, Md., school’s University Health Center.

Out of the university’s 9,000 students who are currently enrolled in a meal plan...

Managing Your Business
help wanted

Put down your peashooter for a moment to consider how weaponry has evolved in the battle for foodservice talent.

Restaurants, the perennial rival for key employees such as cooks, cashiers and line servers, have been griping for more than three decades about “Help Wanted” signs becoming permanent fixtures of their front windows. The only break came in the Great Recession, when their hiring pleas were replaced with “Going Out of Business” alerts. But even then, noncommercial foodservice had a tough time convincing potential hires to work inside the operations of hospitals, employee...

Ideas and Innovation
Romaine Lettuce Concerns

Following last week’s warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that urged foodservice operators to halt serving all romaine lettuce , FSDs across the country have found a variety of ways to replace the crunchy green that’s a customer favorite in salads and sandwiches.

Though the original warning was earlier this week limited to romaine grown in certain areas of California , operations continue to do without romaine as they await new supply. In the meantime, prices of alternative iceberg lettuce have been on the rise .

FSD reached out to members of its...

FSD Resources