03/14/2011: "-- Guest Column --"
By Lovel Pratt
In response to being named in the school board recall petition I will set aside the question about what I or the school food program have to do with the Petition For Recall, assuming that this, and my responses to the allegations, must be addressed in the current legal process. I will also set aside my sincere sadness at the vindictiveness evidenced in the recall petition.
I do want to respond by saying that the established in 2008 is a major success that we should be celebrating. When I look back at the first decade of this century I see the new school food program as a major -if not the most significant- positive district-wide improvement. Healthy meals make a big difference. Teachers report that students come to class better prepared to learn and participate positively. More students want and are able to eat meals at school. The community dinners bring community members into our schools that come for no other reason than to build community.
Prior to 2008, the school food program had incredibly dedicated staff that did the best they could given the commodity foods available and the very limited budget and student participation. It may appear like a simple task to transition from prepared processed foods to meals made from scratch with local and regional ingredients, but there were many challenges to implementing the new program. It took a whole new system for ordering and sourcing quality ingredients and removing the heavily processed commodity foods from school meals (the prepared commodity foods are often processed with unhealthy added fats, sugars and salt). A new menu was established that included a salad bar with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables (sourced as near-by as possible and from San Juan County when available), and entrees made-from-scratch with San Juan Island grass-fed beef and hormone and antibiotic free chicken and rGBH-free dairy products from Skagit County. One requirement was documenting how each meal complied with USDA nutrition requirements. Even more challenging was changing the requirement that students be served predetermined portions of all food categories. Amazingly it was a radical change to educate students about food nutrition and to provide coaching such that students could make healthy choices and serve themselves.
It took a courageous union to participate in negotiations with the district to re-classify the food service workers now that chefs are needed to prepare the nutritious meals from scratch. We can be grateful to the incredible food services team that has worked so hard to make this program be financially sustainable. More than great food, the program is an impetus for service learning projects, instructional activities, and culinary training.
Even more radical was the new food program’s goal that every child eats - a commitment to connect eligible students with federal meal subsidies and to seek community support for other students in need. It’s more complicated than imaginable to give breakfast or lunch to a student who is not able to make payment at the point of sale.
The new school food program established in 2008 exceeded my expectations and it continues to expand and improve with each year. As a school parent and supporter of local and regional food systems I am grateful for the leadership of the superintendent and school board who made this program possible, for those who implemented the program, and for all the supporters who help the program to thrive. And if you haven’t yet attended a community dinner, be sure to attend the next one on June 9th. Come celebrate this great success!