How Chartwells K12 is using grant funding to bring farm-fresh meals to students' plates

The foodservice provider secured a grant through the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to provide students in the state with local ingredients throughout the school year.
Students line up to purchase produce from the farmers market
Students were able to "purchase" produce at a farmers market as one of the Discovery Kitchen activities. | Photo courtesy of Chartwells K12

Chartwells K12 is giving its farm-to-school efforts a boost in New Jersey through new grant funding.  

The foodservice provider was recently awarded $250,000 from a Local Foods for Schools grant that was made available through the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

“When this grant program became available in New Jersey, I just thought it was a really great opportunity to be able to leverage grant funding to make progress on our farm-to-school relationships,” says Chartwells K12 Regional Dietitian Amy Brinton.

Students at nine districts in the state now have expanded access to local ingredients and are learning how their food makes its way from the farm to their lunch tray.

Finding the farms

When looking for local suppliers to work with, Chartwells K12 had to make sure it was partnering with small to medium-sized farms in the state to fulfill the grant requirements. They also wanted to team up with those who would be able to meet their supply needs on a consistent basis over time.

“The sustainability piece was really key for me,” says Chartwells K12 Regional Executive ChefGuy Mastrangelo. “It's finding these farmers who are doing the right thing, producing really great produce and are able to do it year over year.”

Finding suppliers that met these specifications was a challenge, so the foodservice provider reached out to Common Market, a regional food distributor, to help with their search.

Common Market was able to connect the foodservice provider to a variety of farms, that collectively, could supply a wide range of ingredients, some of which can be used year-round.

“What I'm really excited about is they have things like Jersey fresh frozen blueberries that we could use to make like oatmeal blueberry bars in January,” says Brinton. “I think figuring out how to implement farm-to-school during the winter months is always a challenge.”

Working the fresh ingredients into the menu

Ingredients from the local farms are featured in specials offered twice a week. Some of the menu items served on the line include a kale and cranberry salad, beef picadillo, and a zucchini and golden squash casserole.

Alongside the weekly specials, the local ingredients have also found their way into Chartwells K12’s Discovery Kitchen program, which aims to teach students at all grade levels about healthy eating through interactive activities in the cafeteria, including chef demos and tastings.

The grant funding has also allowed some of the districts to offer extra Discovery Kitchen opportunities for students, such as setting up a farmers market where students are given coins to “purchase” produce from local farmers.

Response to the farm-fresh ingredients has been extremely positive, Mastrangelo says, adding that students have approached him saying that they’ve been able to try out some of the recipes they sampled through the Discovery Kitchen at home.

“That becomes the real exciting part of being a chef is that we can actually pass that information along to the next generation,” he says. “Students are actually preparing things and they're getting to see how easy it is to make some of these delicious recipes that we're featuring every day in the cafeteria.”



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