Local schools take part in pilot program for farm fresh lunch

Shopping and eating local makes sense for so many reasons. Consuming locally sourced foods benefits local food producers and cuts down on shipping costs. It helps the environment and brings fresher, healthier options to the American table.

But what about the ubiquitous school lunch?

Memories of rectangular pizza slices, piles of canned corn and chocolate milk cartons sectioned off on trays are familiar to many adults. Somewhat more recently, the Obama administration strengthened nutritional guidelines in schools to eliminate the excess sugars and fats contributing to childhood obesity and overall poor nutrition, particularly for low-income students. But structurally, the shipped-in, factory farm, bulk foodstuffs methodology has remained within local and national school systems.

Enter Green Umbrella, the local nonprofit geared towards delivering common sense solutions to solvable environmental, health and equity issues. This self-described regional sustainability alliance has recognized national Farm to School Month by modeling a nutritionally and environmentally sound school foods program on a successful implementation observed in Cuyahoga County.

Participant Cincinnati Public Schools served locally-grown Ohio apples.Based on Feed Our Future’s launch of an all-local lunch menu in Northeast Ohio schools in 2021, the Local Menu Takeover concept was adopted by Green Umbrella and used as a pilot program for several local school districts the week of October 3rd. Campbell County Schools, Cincinnati Public Schools, Milford Exempted Village Schools and West Clermont Local School District were selected to participate.

According to Kristine Cahall-Dosch, Farm to School Coordinator for the Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council (an initiative of Green Umbrella), the reviews have been encouraging.

She cites one example: “We're using breakfast bars and cookies that are made in Canton, Ohio, and they source a lot of Ohio based ingredients. We got feedback on the breakfast bars that it tastes like a brownie. It meets the school nutrition standards and it's processed in a nut free facility as well. So that's a huge win,” says Cahall-Dosch.

“And they were good,” she adds. “I tried them and I can tell you I personally giggled because I'm like, ‘Oh, this is so good!’”

Cahall-Dosch and the students weren’t the only ones delighted by the menu change.

“Going into the schools you could see the staff was so excited that they were doing something new, something different, something they thought the kids would really like,” reveals Cahall-Dosch.

Cahall-Dosch says she is working with a lot of small to mid-sized farms, which can be a challenge as far as cost.

“We really try to focus on items that we know can sell at a reasonable price to schools that are a good match,” she explains.

Another budgetary help is focusing on in-season produce by using a Harvest of the Month aspect, which takes into consideration fruits and vegetables that are readily available and that schools can easily utilize.

“Just to get a buzz going about talking about (locally sourced foods) to schools who haven't had it on their radar, the Ohio Department of Education actually sent some of the Local Menu Takeover branded materials out to some schools. So that’s really cool,” says Cahall-Dosch, who has high hopes that the program will be adopted by more local schools.

“These first schools will serve as mentors and benchmarks. And we hope that, naturally, as things go back to ‘normal’ post COVID, schools will want to transfer their energy away from all of the safety protocols they've been doing with school lunch to doing local – and that they'd be interested in launching this program on their own,” sums Cahall-Dosch.

For more information on accessing locally sourced foods in schools or households visit https://www.cincinnatiregionalfood.org/
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Eliza Bobonick.

Eliza Bobonick is a Cincinnati-based writer and a mother of three. Her work has been featured in such local and regional publications as Cincinnati CityBeat and Kentucky Homes and Gardens Magazine. She is a former musician whose interests include photography and interior design.