If you have ever tried to change a school menu, you know how challenging it can be to get the kitchen staff to alter the carefully prepared menu fearing dietary regulations. As school gardens become more and more prevalent, the questions arises what to do with all of that healthy, organic produce. Sharing it with families and feeding it to children are obvious work arounds to school lunch regulations, but isn’t the point to supplement the unhealthy meals served in the kitchen?
HealthyCal.org explains the problem facing schools:
With escalating obesity rates and growing interest in “eating local,” many schools are looking to add their schoolyard harvest to cafeteria lunches. But school administrators may be wary of the prospect, citing concerns about food safety, sanitation, and state and federal rules about school meals.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) even issued an official memo several years ago, stating that its school cafeterias can’t use school garden produce because the food doesn’t come from an “approved source.” The district’s claim, however, was based on a misreading of state law, and relied on an outdated provision in the first place. In fact, the state code the district cited only requires that fresh produce come from sources that “comply with all applicable laws.” Even if the provision did apply, it would be easy to meet just by transporting any school garden produce in leak-proof, washable containers.
We have faced similar opposition from the previous administration at my school when local farmers tried to donate extra organic produce to the school. You simply can’t replace that fruit serving of ketchup with organic Asian pears.
Such fears are misguided, as HealthyCal.org continues:
In California, school cafeterias are governed by what’s known as the California Retail Food Code (part of the state’s Health and Safety Code), designed to ensure that food provided to consumers is “safe, unadulterated, and honestly presented.” It requires that produce from any source be washed thoroughly to remove soil and other contaminants, and that any chemicals used to wash or peel produce meet certain requirements. But as long as proper handling requirements are followed, there is nothing stopping the use of produce from a school garden.
What’s more, the federal government actually encourages garden-to-cafeteria programs. Congress recently made a strong show of support for garden-to-cafeteria programs when it passed the “Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act” in December 2010.
If you face similar obstacles at your child’s school, ask to see the policy on school gardens. Only a local policy could prohibit the usage, as found in Chicago. Our kids deserve to eat what they have grown. It sends a horrible message of distrust of fresh food to tell children they can’t be served at lunch what they grow. To say the processed mystery fish sticks are alright over garden produce is insane. From planting to harvest to consumption, eating the food grown in a school garden is an integral part of the curriculum.