-Auburn School District Garden to Cafeteria
The Auburn School District?s 1 1/2 acre organic garden and orchard produces fruits and vegetables for student lunches and snacks in ten elementary schools. In addition to garden produce, the Auburn School District purchases from local farmers for all twenty-two schools.
How did the program get started?
The Nutrition Director for the Auburn School District, School Nutrition Specialist Eric Boutin, worked with others in the school to designate 1 1/2 acres of ?future expansion land? for the high school as a gardening plot. Planting began in February of 2008, and raised garden beds and forty-five fruit trees currently cover the property, which is located on the same block as the high school and an elementary school. The garden is used by school teachers for nutrition and science education, for an after-school garden club, and in the summer for the district?s Summer Food Academy camp.
Costs and Funding
The Auburn School District prioritizes healthy and local eating within their budget, and is thus able to afford maintaining a garden and small orchard, as well as purchase from local farmers. Donations of time and money, as well as grants, help keep the garden going. Elementary school lunches cost $2.25, and secondary school lunches cost $2.50.
Depending on the product and time of year, it is less expensive for the school district to buy organic and local produce over conventionally grown produce from a distributor. Eric Boutin says the challenge is not in the cost of local produce, but in the small number of farms who can provide enough food for a school district consistently. Boutin ordered organic apples all this year, which have been cheaper than conventionally grown apples because Boutin worked with distributor Terra Organics from Tacoma and found the right farmer. Finding a farmer who can say what they produce, the pack size, and how much the product costs is imperative for success, but often difficult to find.
Although there is just one garden for the school district?s cafeterias, it serves as a model for what is possible, and produces food for all elementary schools during the growing and harvesting seasons. Some schools do have their own greenhouses and garden clubs, but the local produce in the cafeteria either comes from the district garden or from Washington farmers.
Eric Boutin creates connections with local farmers by visiting farmers markets. Sometimes he buys special products like carrots with their green tops attached, to provide delicious and visually educational lunch treats or snacks.
The school district partners with ?Growing Washington,? a cooperative of Washington farmers who have committed thousands of pounds of German butterball and Yukon gold potatoes to Auburn?s twenty-two schools. The schools also purchase from Baird Orchards in Eastern Washington (apples and pears), from Acme Orchards in Quincy (cherries), from Dagdagan Farms in Wapato (watermelon, Yellow Baby Doll watermelon, donut peaches, peaches, plums, corn on the cob, green beans, honeydew, orange honeydew, cantelope, and tomatoes), and from Let Us Farm in Oakville (organic lettuces, organic carrots, and organic Delicata squash). Steve Hallstrom of Let Us Farm delivers his fresh produce on route to the Seattle farmers markets.
The garden and local farms cannot provide all food necessary for the cafeterias year-round, so the district also buys food through Food Services of American and local distributor Terra Organics. Terra Organics sells Washington grown produce and identifies the farms of origin.
Local foods served include cherry tomatoes, beans, radishes, lettuces, zucchini, apples, and plums are all grown in the garden and orchard. Local farms provide cherries, potatoes, apples, pears, watermelon, peaches, doughnut peaches, cucumbers, green beans, carrots, and corn. Instead of French fries, oven-roasted potatoes, roasted vegetable medleys, and a zucchini onion blend are favorite dishes. Whenever the cooks prepare a new vegetable dish, they do a taste test in the lunch line first. Depending on how popular the dish is, they know how much of that product to purchase in the future.
The back of every school menu has talking points, games, and resources on the importance of local foods and nutrition. Students take a new menu home each month.
A math teacher from the high school incorporates math and science education into the after-school garden club activities. The after school garden club is for 4th and 5th graders, and last year, 10-25 students were involved during any given week.
Child nutrition staff help maintain the garden along with the after-school garden club. Child nutrition hires high school students as part-time help in the garden with funds from the district garden club account. This account is supported by grants and donations.
In the next years, Eric Boutin would like to see more high school students working with elementary students in the garden to fulfill community service hours. He envisions the high school earth sciences classes learning about composting and soils in the garden as well.
Phone: (253) 931-4972