ISDA celebrates Boise School District's Farm to School program
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A special Harvest Day celebration at a Boise elementary school Sept. 26 was an opportunity for the school district and state officials to highlight their efforts to include more local foods in school meals during September. But it also provided them a chance to explain that their commitment to serving local food extends beyond a single day or month.
The Idaho State Department of Agriculture chose Boise for the Harvest Day celebration because it has created the template for how to include local food in school menus, Leah Clark, program manager for the ISDA's Idaho Preferred program, said.
The Boise School District was one of five selected by the state in 2010 to pilot a Farm to School program and develop best practices for other districts. The district spent more than $1 million that year purchasing local food for its 25,000 students and has increased that amount since.
The ISDA plans to expand the pilot to another five districts next year and will rely heavily on BSD's experiences, Clark said.
"We have learned a lot from them," she said during the Harvest Day luncheon. "We always come back to Boise and say, 'How did this work? Or, what could we do here,' because they are finding new ways to make things work that we don't even know about."
Peggy Bodnar, the district's director of food and nutrition services, said the district's commitment to serve more local foods has not waned since the pilot program ended.
"Over the last couple of years, we've committed even more to it," she said.
Because it's a challenge to find locally grown produce during Idaho's cold winter months, the district has had to get creative, she said.
That includes forming relationships with large food manufacturers such as J.R. Simplot Co., McCain Foods and Clear Springs Trout, who provide the district with entrees grown in Idaho.
Because locally grown fruits and vegetables aren't available all year, the district also serves local products like potato wedges, trout, beans, onions, milk and pizza crust made with local whole-wheat flour.
Boise farmer Jim Lowe said he particularly likes the fact that the program includes opportunities to teach children about agriculture.
For example, students who track which local foods they eat for a week earn a free pass to Lowe's Farmstead corn maze, which is as much about educating people about farming as it is about entertainment.
"My passion is in educating the students on the connection between their food and the agricultural industry," he said. "It's a lot of fun to watch those lights come on in students' eyes as they realize that, 'Hey, everything I eat, with a very few exceptions, comes from a farm.'"
Education is a main part of the Farm to School program, Clark said.
"It's getting more food from local farms in the cafeteria but it's also teaching kids about food, where their food comes from and the basics of agriculture," she said.