A Modesto conference packed in plenty for kids hoping for more fresh food in their cafeteria lunches and school administrators wishing to cut costs.
Giving schools better access to local ag products was one of the goals of the Northern California Farm to School Conference hosted Friday by the University of California Cooperative Extension at its office on Cornucopia Way.
“There are wonderful resources linking food service to ways to buy local produce. You can have it delivered to the school,” said Joyce Bishop, a nutrition educator with UC Cooperative Extension’s UC Cal Fresh.
The conference’s cafeteria-style lunch featured standard lean hamburgers, whole-wheat buns and two salad bars packed with toppings and fruit – standard fare from the Salida Union School District’s award-winning food program.
“We’re pretty much on track. This is where we need to continue heading,” Johnathan Kneiss said between bites. Kneiss, food services manager with Waterford Unified, said the high school this year added food carts to speed up serving hungry teens.
“I got good ideas, as far as presenting fruits and vegetables,” said Tammy Krause, sitting with a small contingent of food service supervisors from Tracy Unified.
Carrie Jones, also from the Tracy group, said she’ll propose a food waste recycling program developed by the Salida district. “I’m just so jazzed about that!” Jones said.
Diners also tasted a chicken stir fry cooked as they watched by Casey Paulino, food service coordinator for Denair Unified, and two assistant chefs from the Salida Middle School junior chefs team. Budding sous chefs Jesus Acevedo and Evelyn Quintero, both seventh-graders, chopped carrots and celery while Paulino sautéed.
Workshops showed how to weave nutrition education into classroom studies, using health information to fulfill Common Core reading and writing tasks. Another speaker demonstrated how school gardens can provide hands-on ways to learn about nutrition and eating healthy.
Participants tried out a fourth-grade lesson, comparing food nutrition labels to determine the healthiest of three unidentified dairy products. The clear winner turned out to be low-fat chocolate milk, winning out over a slice of American cheese and ice cream.
That surprises a lot of people, said Kelley Brian of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s getting past the preconceptions that makes labels valuable. “Another concept this lesson brings is that there can be multiple choices,” she said, by putting a priority on more proteins or nutrients, or on lowering sugar or calories.
Billy Reid, head of food services for Salida schools, explained the recycling solution he developed for food waste. Reid’s mechanized system of grinding and dehydrating food scraps compacts the garbage into a sawdust-type product. Together with a melting process for foam trays, Salida saves approximately $15,000 a year in waste removal costs, Reid said.
While the powdery food residue is too high in nitrogen to be easily used as fertilizer, Reid said he is looking into using the absorbent powder for lighter sandbags for flood areas or as packing for insulation.
“There doesn’t have to be garbage,” he said.