Farm-to-School Workshops in Atlanta, GA Part 2

Farm-to-School Workshops In Atlanta, GA Part 2

Fri 29 Jun 2012

Story by Jim Brams

The Cook’s Warehouse Farm-to-School Workshops in Atlanta, GA, U.S.A. teaches cafeteria staff to best utilize fresh fruits and produce in their kitchens. Read part 1 here.

A hands-on lesson of quick-tasty-healthy at the cooks’ home kitchen.
This class was held in the Decatur High School cafeteria kitchen with about 30 cooks from the eight separate kitchens that feed the City Schools children.
The menu included party hummus, made with black-eyed peas and black beans, with vegetable dippers; two whole-wheat pasta offerings with broccoli pesto or Bolognese sauce; garden salad with homemade vinaigrette dressing; broccoli-cheese casserole, and carrot muffins.

Jennifer Weissman, a Decatur parent working with the Decatur School Nutrition Director, answered questions and concerns and offered suggestions to the cooks about new menu choices, portion control and ingredient sourcing.

• Instead of a class, a meeting of the principals was an “Assess - Adjust - Plan” session to the program for the 3,000 children in the City Schools.

The exchange of information yielded these trends and suggestions for the future:
1. Healthy lunch purchases have increased dramatically in all schools. Increases are most significant at the high school where the “a la carte” line selling fast food was eliminated.

2. Ideas for tasking and production were discussed to help the staff think about prepping food for a week at a time rather than daily to help production efficiency, and rotating staff among prep stations so all workers develop skills in multiple areas, helping cover absent team members and increasing employee satisfaction.

3. The kitchen staff learned to avoid the terms “healthy” and “vegetarian,” which lowered acceptance of new items. For example, students were hesitant to try “vegetarian beans” but they love the same beans when labeled “spicy beans.”

4. The Farm-to-School program influenced the kitchen design and layout at the new Fifth Avenue school being built.

5. During a recent state audit visit, auditors were shocked at the limited use of canned vegetables. Fresh vegetables have been substituted for many of the canned items previously used.

6. Expenses for fresh produce increased approximately 33%. Expenses for frozen and canned items have decreased somewhat, but the overall increased expenses were manageable because of help from the school board in covering some of the kitchen staff salaries.

The Oakhurst Community Garden Project continues to provide hands-on gardening education on site at the schools. All schools plant kale, then prepare and taste it. School gardens will never be a significant contribution to the raw ingredients for the base kitchens but this activity helps introduce new foods and increases their acceptance.

The group’s assessment of the program:

1. The City Schools of Decatur cafeterias are at the forefront of the local, statewide and national curve of providing healthy and fresh meals. The amount of fresh food used in the Decatur schools has increased 300% in two years.

2. The cafeteria workers are working harder to produce freshly cooked meals instead of “heat and eat.” The increased work is offset by job satisfaction derived from the cooks walking the breakfast and lunch rooms to “feel the love” and enjoying compliments from the kids.

Staff reported the parents are keenly interested and highly pleased with the changes made to the meal program.

4. Training for the kitchen staff has also changed their own cooking and eating habits at home: some 60% of staff reported increased fresh fruit and vegetables being served and consumed by family members.

Along with Mary Moore, local chefs who donated time and skills include Cathy Conway, Barbara Petit, Megan McCarthy and Seth Freedman. Much of the food was donated by Whole Foods Market, PodPonics and Destiny Organics.

“We cannot thank the chefs and food vendors enough who generously donated their time and product to this experiment,” said Moore. “The success and ‘buzz’ of this two-year program got us invited to conduct more workshops with the DeKalb County School District with its 94,000 students, and we’re now planning those workshops for its kitchen management!”

About the author: Jim Brams, the public relations director for The Cook’s Warehouse, is a lifelong writer and PR man. He has been a member of the Public Relations Society of America member for 30 years and lives in Atlanta, GA, USA.


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