A Conversation about School Lunches, a Student and a Farmer

by: Posted on: June 08, 2013

Editor’s Note: In a letter Anabel Magee, 9, expresses her frustration about the state of her school lunches. Clayton Burrows of Growing Washington, the 2012 Washington Tilth Farm of the Year and Washington Farm to School participant, responds. Clayton is a Read the Dirt co-founder.

Anabel:

9-year-old Anabel Magee, wrote the following letter regarding school lunches. She then gathered 71 signatures in two days from students, staff and concerned citizens in support. She would now like for you to forward this along to anyone you think would be interested.

To whom it may concern,

I have been thinking and talking with people about school lunches. We do not think they are very good. They should be local as if it were ‘Harvest of the Month’ every day. I understand money is a hard and big problem for schools so I have done some thinking. Bellingham schools are in a vicious cycle of buying poor quality, non-nutritious, cheap food for lack of funds to buy better quality food. But then nobody wants to eat or pay for bad food. Therefore, Bellingham Elementary schools are wasting money. If schools bought local food, more people would buy it and then our School District would be making a profit. Hot lunch is definitely not at all nutritious.

I have been taking surveys to see who do and don’t like hot lunch. We surveyed 85 people. Fourteen out of the 85 “like” hot lunch. Nine of the 85 “kind of like” hot lunch. Sixty-two out of the 85 “do not like” hot lunch. This is saying something.

There are other issues facing elementary hot lunches other then health concerns. These issues are the taste and quality. Also the way the food is stored/prepared makes it stick together [like when a hotdog sticks to the bun].

There should be a school garden so we could eat the local food it grows. I have gone around asking people if they want a salad bar. Basically everyone said yes.

According to http://www.whatcomfarmtoschool.org/learn-more/why-is-f2s-important/ local food helps improve children’s health. It also encourages lifelong healthy eating habits. To help prevent food waste an easy way is to give small portions and allow people to get more as they wish. Michelle Obama is also trying to get more local food in schools, too.

As you can see, this is a big problem. I appreciate your time. Please make an effort to work on this subject.

Thank you in advance,

Anabel Magee
Lowell, 5th grade

 

Clayton:

Very well written! You might not know it, but us farmers at Growing Washington have made more deliveries to schools than any other farmers in the state. We completely support your ideas. There are some fundamental challenges to farm to school programs. The biggest is growing and selling food that is affordable to schools and profitable for farmers. We lose a lot of money selling to schools because they only have a pittance of resources available to spend on food. We sell to them anyway because we support the idea and know that we have to start somewhere if anything is to change. Perhaps the biggest immediate challenge we have faced is that schools aren’t prepared to accept raw, unprocessed foods. There are only three cooking kitchens in the entire Bellingham, Washington School District, they don’t have basic equipment to process food and, frankly, the staff is not very supportive of farm to school efforts because it means more work for them. School kitchens are essentially “re-heat” stations where pre-processed foods are warmed up and plopped on plates. In my mind the single biggest thing that we can do is help local farms get to the right size where they can sell food as cheaply as schools demand, or to find a way to give schools the resources necessary to pay the real cost of food. School gardens are a great tool for education and trying new things and special food events, but they will never grow enough food to actually feed the students—that is why we have professional farmers. For years I have pushed for folks like us to actually have farms at or near schools. That way food is growing right where students are learning. Most schools have large, flat fields that are underutilized and basically just fertilized with chemicals, then watered, then mowed (and the cycle is repeated over and over). It is kind of sad to think that we don’t have enough money to pay teachers a fair salary and don’t have enough money to feed our students nutritious foods, but evidently there is enough money to train teachers on how to have guns at school and to hire armed guards and/or arm our teachers with guns.

All of this said, I have personally grown and delivered more food to schools in the Puget Sound than any other farmer, and our team is quite committed to keeping up the good food fight. Mark Dalton is also quite committed, but the restrictions upon him are daunting; he only has so many resources to work with.

We will gladly grow food for any school that asks for it and makes a commitment to buy it. We have maintained “Viking Field” on our farm for several years, growing food specifically for Western Washington University. If it can work there, I don’t see any reason why it can’t work elsewhere.

Clayton Burrows
Director – Growing Washington
2012 Washington State Farmer of the Year

 

Photo: USDA


2 Responses to “A Conversation about School Lunches, a Student and a Farmer”

  • An important place for our society to invest and teach our citizens how to stay healthy and reduce health care costs. You are shaping the future and contributing to the welfare of all. Good, nutritious lunches will save money in the long term.
    by: Abe Cohenon: Saturday 8th of June 2013
  • That photo doesn't come close to representing the food Anabel is talking about. As Clayton states there are only "warming stations" in all the schools except three high schools in the Bellingham School district. Warming Stations. Like in the back of an airplane. Oh, yum. Those hotdogs come in a plastic bag, warmed up in it, and become a soggy mess that, as Anabel states, just sticks together like wet bread will to most anything. The food is being delivered to the schools from a central location. Any time things are centralized they aid the corporate alien and take away from our human connection. We can do better. Kudos to Growing in Washington for trying to start things going in the right direction. Now we've got to re-build some kitchens.
    by: Terry Garretton: Wednesday 12th of June 2013

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