USDA administrator to visit Davis schools

by iancahir — last modified Mar 04, 2010 08:25 AM

Rayne Pegg, administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will visit the Davis Joint Unified School District on March 8 to observe first-hand one of the nation’s most-promising public school-lunch models.

District officials are honored to host the visit and showcase Davis’ pairing of commodity foods with local produce as well as community partnerships with Davis Farm to School, the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis, Sutter Davis Hospital and the Davis Farmers’ Market.

Pegg will tour the Student Nutrition Services (SNS) central kitchen as well as an elementary and a secondary school site to see the school-lunch and recycling-programs in action and to sample the food being served to students. She will also meet with Superintendent James Hammond, former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin -- who championed “A Garden in Every School” -- Jim Mills of Produce Express, -- and representatives from various partner organizations. They will complete their tour of Davis with a visit to one of the many school gardens used to teach a variety of academic subjects and to increase food and agricultural literacy.

Hammond provides administrative leadership and support for improving school lunch as a part of creating a healthy school environment. Local farm fresh produce is infused in every aspect of the school lunch.  The community at-large supports the district’s vision of a whole child, ready to learn, with lifelong healthy eating habits and an appreciation for the land from which food comes. The relationship between nutrition and cognition is well documented for student achievement.

Gail Feenstra, academic coordinator for the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) at ASI, said SNS purchased 43 percent of  produce locally in fall 2009. SNS defines local as within 300 miles of Davis, encompassing the growing Sacramento Valley region that includes Davis. As of last year, the SNS serves only organically grown rice from the Sacramento Valley. Davis’ K-12 seasonal salad bars feature locally grown fruits – including blood oranges, kiwi and strawberries when in season – and vegetables to create a wide range of salad and menu items. SNS makes soup from scratch every Thursday, incorporating seasonal vegetables, including beef barley, turkey, winter vegetable chowder, and Mandarin coconut soups served with locally made whole-wheat rolls.

Davis Farm to School has provided a cooking school with five lessons annually for the past two years to the SNS staff to help teach them about the preparation of fresh, seasonal produce, and to help cooks develop flavor profiles for basic dishes that students love.

“I’ve never worked with a more interested and enthusiastic group than the staff of SNS,” said Georgeanne Brennan, a nationally known author and cooking teacher who provides professional development to the SNS staff. “The director, Raphaelita Curva, provides inspired leadership for her team and has a commitment to providing fresh, local food to the students. That makes a huge difference,”

In building a sustainable school-lunch program, community partnerships have been key to success, Curva says resources provided by Davis Farm to School, a nonprofit organization now in its tenth year, have played a major role. Sutter Davis Hospital, the Davis Farmers Market, the Davis Food Co-op and local service clubs have partnered to assist Davis Farm to School with its school-lunch booster club work. In 2007, the citizens of Davis passed a parcel tax in which a portion -- $70,000 per year for four years -- is available to Curva to increase fresh, local food being served to school children. Curva also creatively integrates commodity products along with fresh local products in entrees as well as salad bars, thereby reducing overall costs. Children and adults alike love the results.

Media availability is possible during the visit. Please contact us at ASI@ucdavis.edu.