Those who remember the cafeteria meals from their own school days being stale, flavorless or otherwise unappealing might find themselves surprised to hear what Coupeville students enjoyed for lunch on Wednesday.
The day’s meal featured shepherd’s pie with beef and lamb, bakery rolls and a salad bar stocked with fresh greens and veggies, all made with locally sourced ingredients.
Gone are the days of school cafeterias specializing in questionable comestibles with cardboard consistency; schools all over the state recognized Taste Washington Day on Oct. 6 as part of the state Department of Agriculture’s “Farm to School” campaign to increase use of local ingredients in school meals.
This year, agriculture department representative Annette Slonim visited Coupeville school district to celebrate Taste Washington Day and tour the district’s new school farm, established earlier this year.
“Every year we do try and show support for the schools and the farms that are participating,” Slonim said about the visit to Coupeville. “We want to feature a program that is doing a lot and demonstrate what the potential is with Farm to School.”
In autumn of last year, the school district received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build a school farm. Now, a year later, the farm’s first harvest is contributing to daily student meals and helping build stores for the future.
Since August, the farm has produced more than 2,000 pounds of fresh produce. Some vegetables are served fresh, while others are frozen or otherwise processed to be served in the future. Some three hundred pounds of cauliflower from the school farm, for example, were processed and frozen to be used in the cafeteria’s popular cauliflower mac and cheese for months to come.
Between the school farm and the district’s partnerships with other local producers, Coupeville students eat fresh and local every day, not just on Taste Washington Day.
Besides producing food for the school cafeterias, the school farm also provides educational opportunities for children.
On Wednesday, a class of third graders visited the farm for a lesson on tomatoes — October’s harvest of the month — led by school garden coordinator Zvi Bar-Chaim and school farm manager Kylie Neal, or “Farmer Kylie,” as the kids call her.
They reviewed the parts of the tomato plant and sampled fresh tomatoes off the vine, even plucking basil leaves to adorn their own mini Caprese salads. At the farm and in the garden, kids are encouraged to be courageous in trying new foods and taught appropriate language for expressing when they don’t like something.
“Kids are very happy to be outside, especially after spending a long time doing online learning,” Bar-Chaim said. “They really like being with their peers, and outside gives us a really good opportunity to do that and still have valuable educational time and educational opportunities.”
Neal said she hopes that as the farm becomes more established, students from the elementary, middle and high schools will all have opportunities to participate in planting and maintaining the farm.
South Whidbey school district also celebrated Taste Washington Day on Wednesday with a meal of “rainbow rice” featuring beets, carrots and kale from the school garden.
According to South Whidbey school farm manager Cary Peterson, every day is Taste Washington Day at South Whidbey schools.
“Our school farms daily provide many of the vegetables that are served in the school lunches, and the students eat fresh picked from the farm during their farm classes,” she said.