Though my metal, rusting Adam-12 themed lunchbox of yesteryear was a far cry from the insulated designer lunchboxes my children use today, the challenges remain largely the same. Times have changed, but for a host of reasons, schools continue to struggle to provide high-quality, low-cost nutritious meals that finicky students actually want to eat — though it is not for lack of trying.
Certainly a legacy of the Obama Administration will be Michelle’s oft-discussed school lunch requirements and I know plenty of hard working school cafeteria folks that really try on a daily basis only to be labeled with the notorious “lunch lady” moniker. But all of the many efforts that have taken place from my childhood until now have done little to slow the endless amounts of homemade PB&J or lunchmeat sandwiches and pudding cups carried to school each day.
Another challenge in places like Ohio with strong farm roots and diverse agricultural production is to connect the local food producers with the needs of the school system. An effort to address both challenges was highlighted last month in Ohio’s largest school district when Columbus City Schools kicked off a monthly effort to showcase Ohio grown, raised or processed food.
On Jan. 25, Columbus school cafeterias served more than 52,000 students with a meal including turkey from Bowman and Landes family farm in New Carlisle, gravy and dressing from Sandridge Foods in Medina, apples from Bauman Orchards in Rittman, milk from United Dairy in Martins Ferry, and a salad mix from Waterfields, a hydroponic facility in Cincinnati. The event was called “Ohio Days: My Plate, My State.”
“Our new effort will provide healthier, locally sourced meals to our students, with the meats, the grains, the fruits, the vegetables and the milk all coming from Ohio farms and producers,” said Daniel Good, Columbus City Schools Superintendent. “We’re excited about bringing this opportunity to all 110 of our cafeterias.”
Ohio Days is a joint project of the City of Columbus, Ohio State University Extension’s Farm to School program, and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. Farm to School is a national program, which in Ohio is led by OSU Extension, and partners with numerous agencies, organizations and industry groups, including the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
“ODA stands ready to help any district across Ohio implement programs as successful and impactful as this one from Columbus City Schools,” said David T. Daniels, ODA Director. “Students benefit from fresh, local lunches and Ohio Proud companies benefit from increased business, ultimately adding to agriculture and food production’s enormous impact as the state’s number one industry.”
Columbus City Schools, with the help of the Ohio Department of Agriculture and OSU Extension, have identified more than 20 companies with the capacity to meet the district’s need for local apples, turkey, chicken and beef products, shredded cheese, milk, corn tortillas, whole grain tortilla chips, lettuce, beans, carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, squash and peaches. Ohio’s Farm to School program has partnerships in all 88 counties.
“With Columbus ordering such large quantities, it’s our hope that smaller districts, that otherwise would not be able to place orders with these local companies, will have an avenue to source Ohio grown and processed foods for their students,” Daniels said. “It’s also exciting for students to learn where their food really comes from, a farm not too far from home.”
Sandusky City Schools
Sandusky City Schools was among the first schools in Ohio to become active in the Farm to School program and now features local fruit and vegetables when in season. Middle and high school students have salad bars featuring local ingredients. Every day, fresh fruits are offered in all schools for breakfast and lunch. Apples are local all year. The school feeds 3,500 students and has great working relationships with Tender Shoot Farm and Eshelman’s Orchard.
Arps Dairy in Defiance County has been serving milk in northwest Ohio schools for 80 years. Arps Dairy gets milks supplied from multiple community dairies and during the school season produces 3.5 million half pints of milk with the majority being delivered to schools in Defiance, Putnam, Henry and Paulding counties and beyond. Drivers are on a first-name basis with school cooks in the area. They can process the milk from farm to store (or school) in 24 hours. They also work with field trips to area dairies for the students to learn about the milk they are drinking.
Fremont City Schools
The district currently funds a fresh fruit or veggie snack each to every elementary child. Fremont City Schools also benefited from a $29,000 Farm to School “planning grant” from the USDA in 2014 used to further the health and wellness efforts. This included serving more local foods in the cafeteria, growing vegetables in gardens and vertical containers, and planting fruit trees. During that year, the district surveyed students in grades 5 through 12 and parents about school meal program participation and satisfaction. The survey results were used to make some menu changes and include more choices in the school meals. The enrollment at Fremont from preschool through grade 12 is more than 4,000. They serve over 3,000 lunches a day, at nine schools in the district.
With success stories like these, more students are finding better reasons in the cafeteria at school to leave those lunchboxes at home and support Ohio agriculture in the process.
For more information on the Farm to School program, contact Carol Smathers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-688-1801.