-The Olympia School District's Organic Choices Program
The Olympia School District piloted an Organic Choices salad bar at Lincoln Elementary School in October 2002. The pilot program was started when Vanessa Ruddy, a concerned parent from Lincoln Elementary School approached Child Nutrition Supervisor Paul Flock about the quality of school lunches. Meetings were arranged between Ruddy, Flock, other parents, teachers, community members, and Lincoln’s principal and a plan and goals for the program were created. In the first year of the program, four other schools added organic salad bars and locally grown produce to their menus. These schools included Pioneer, Boston Harbor and Garfield Elementary Schools, as well as the Griffin School District, which hired the Olympia Food Service as a contractor for their K-8 school. During the 2003-2004 school year, all eighteen schools in the Olympia School District were receiving organic and locally grown produce.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) Small Farm and Direct Marketing Program Coordinator Kelli Sanger provided local farmer contact information to the Olympia School District. Personal invitations, which were delivered to farmers inviting them to expand their market and sell to the Olympia School District, were met with a positive response. In the 2003-2004 school year, the district had arrangements with five farmers with the possibility of purchasing from an additional two farmers in the 2004-2005 school year. In addition to purchasing directly from farmers, the district works with a local produce distributor to source local organic salad greens, fruits, and vegetables when in season and available. The farmers and wholesale distributors deliver foods to the central district kitchen. These foods are then distributed to each participating school with their regular deliveries in district owned trucks.
The “Organic Choices Salad Bar” resembles a restaurant style salad bar. The salad bar features organic fruit and vegetable choices, whole grain bread, vegetarian meat alternatives, eggs, and organic soymilk. The goal is to have twenty five percent of the produce purchased directly from local farms and to have fifty percent of the salad bar produce be organic. The salad bar can be chosen as a complete meal or in combination with hot lunch items.
By encouraging students to take only what they will eat, eliminating deserts from the elementary menu (by request of teachers and parents), and reducing waste costs by composting and recycling, the program has been financially sustainable. Although produce expenditures have increased, overall food costs have gone down.(2) At the first two schools where the salad bar was introduced, fruit and vegetable servings increased an average of twenty seven percent, and participation rates increased by sixteen percent.
At Lincoln, the shift to organic choices was enthusiastically added as an extension of a well-developed environmental education program already in place, called the Lincoln Options Program. Lincoln has had an organic garden and a large greenhouse since 1991. What is being taught in the garden and classroom about nutrition and organic foods is now connected to the foods students eat in the lunchroom. Other food and nutrition education programs exist at the districts’ schools; however, they are not as integrated into the farm to school program as at Lincoln.
The Olympia School District benefits from their participation in the Department of Defense (DoD) Fresh program, which became available for school districts in Washington State in July 2002. School districts choosing to participate in the program can divert commodity entitlement dollars that are typically used to purchase dry goods, to purchase US grown produce. The Olympia School District receives produce from the DoD Fresh program that amounted to 20 percent of their previous year’s expenditure for produce.
Paul Flock, Child Nutrition, Olympia School District
Phone: (360) 596 -7007