PE ELL, Wash. — A cafeteria-full of schoolchildren at Pe Ell School noisily enjoyed their lunch Sept. 25, a scene mirrored at schools across the state in celebration of Taste Washington Day.
For the occasion, school districts served lunches featuring locally sourced food as much as possible in partnership with the Washington School Nutrition Association, Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network and the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
Missie Holmes, food service director at Pe Ell, said her menu was built around one of her students’ favorite lunches, barbecue baked chicken and roasted potatoes, cooked from scratch in the school kitchen.
Milk came from Blaser Brothers Midway Dairy in Chehalis, 25 miles away, fruits from Jeremy’s Mainstreet Market, also in Chehalis, and vegetables from Boistfort Valley Farm, 15 miles away.
Special guest at Pe Ell was Trudi Inslee, wife of Gov. Jay Inslee, who joined in the lunch and posed for lots of pictures with the smiling kids. She said keeping Washington food in front of Washington children benefits everyone.
“Kids are the best deliverers of messages,” she said.
WSDA and the other agencies organized the first Taste Washington Day in 2010, and since then at least 60 school districts and 50 farms have participated. Hector Castro, communications director of the ag department, said he didn’t know how many joined in this year, but at least 50 said they planned to.
Tricia Kovacs, WSDA outreach and education specialist, said limited federal grants have facilitated the partnerships between local farmers and buyers at institutions, food banks, hospitals and schools.
“We’ve helped open doors for schools concerned about the legalities of buying local food,” she said. “Also the schools are challenged by new nutrition standards, and produce items are color-based, based on their nutritional value. Local produce can build on that.”
Not all schools have kitchens, she said, but many districts are reviving facilities or serving several schools from a central kitchen.
WSDA Director Bud Hover said, “Taste Washington Day is a chance for schools to teach their students about where their food comes from and promote healthy eating. It’s also about recognizing the hard work of the farmers and ranchers and others who provide the food that we all enjoy.”
“Prevailing wisdom seems to be that children don’t want healthy or nutritious food,” said Chris Neal, president of the Washington School Nutrition Association. “But if it looks good and tastes good, most students are more than willing to try something new. And what tastes or looks better than fresh, local produce?”