Select Page

By Lydia Serrano, Slow Food USA

It just became easier for school districts across the country to connect school gardens with the school meal program. Slow Food USA's Andrew Nowak created a new Garden to Cafeteria Toolkit thanks to a Whole Kids Foundation Healthy Kids Innovation Grant. The Toolkit was unveiled at the recent National Farm To Cafeteria Conference in Cincinnati. “There is no other toolkit like this,” states Andrew. “I’m hoping it becomes a go-to resource for food service departments.”

The Toolkit assists administrators in developing food safety protocols for harvesting fresh produce from the school garden. To support districts using the Toolkit, several valuable resources will be available, including monthly webinars and “office hours” for Toolkit users to ask questions and connect with other program leaders. The goal, according to Andrew, is to “build a Garden to Cafeteria community to support numerous districts in creating their own Garden to Cafeteria programs using the Toolkit.”

The Toolkit was developed in two parts. It was first written based on Andrew’s experience in developing a Garden to Cafeteria program for Denver Public Schools in 2010. The next phase of the grant was to conduct a pilot program in order to learn how it could be implemented in different school districts. Three districts were chosen based on their existing school garden programs and presence of a supportive food service staff able to execute the process espoused in the Toolkit. Bellingham Public Schools in northwest Washington, one of the participants, recently unveiled their first garden to cafeteria program to much success!

The Toolkit In Use: Washington's Bellingham Public Schools

{{ image(5933, {“class”: “fill round”, “width”:640, “height”:340}) }}Students harvesting kale

“Bellingham Public Schools used the new Garden to Cafeteria Toolkit to create a set of food safety protocols to harvest school garden produce and use the fresh produce in their school salad bar,” shared Andrew. Along with their partner Common Threads Farm, BPS created their own Garden to Cafeteria handbook and conducted their first school garden harvest in late April. Middle school students harvested three kinds of kale from the greenhouse on their school grounds. The kale was weighed by Common Threads Farm staff and given a field wash to remove any large chunks of dirt.

{{ image(5936, {“class”: “fill round”, “width”:640, “height”:340}) }}Washing harvested kale in a school kitchen

“I taught the kitchen staff how to wash the fresh kale in the school kitchen and how to prep it by removing the large stems from the leaves. I then taught the staff how to make a simple Lemon-Garlic vinaigrette and showed them how to massage the vinaigrette into the kale leaves. The salad was then dressed with apple chunks, dried cranberries, sliced radishes, and pumpkin seeds. The salad was served on the salad bar as part of the menu for the day.”

{{ image(5935, {“class”: “fill round”, “width”:640, “height”:340}) }}Massaging freshly-made vinaigrette into harvested kale in the school kitchen

Download the Garden to Cafeteria Toolkit here.

Learn More:

Image at top: Kale salads served in Bellingham Public Schools' cafeteria