Happy Rich Broccoli From San Diego GrowersFri 20 May 2011
Story by The Food Revolution Team
San Diego Unified School District is the second largest district in California, and the first to have a dedicated Farm to School Specialist position in California. Through grant funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SDUSD was able to hire Vanessa Zajfen in August 2010. In addition to a Master’s degree in Sustainable Agriculture from Iowa State University, Ms. Zajfen has a strong background in Farm to School programs through her work with the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College in Los Angeles.
SDUSD’s Farm to School program began in September 2010. Since that time, the Food Services Department (FSD) has served a locally grown fruit or vegetable every month at 241 school sites and has purchased 50 tons of local foods. Sourcing the “Harvest of the Month” is a big challenge and, believe it or not, the hunt for March 2011’s harvest began in November 2010 with a simple question: What can be grown for SDUSD’s Farm to School program that will result in the greatest return to students, farmers and food services? The answer was Happy Rich Broccoli.
Through the establishment of a Regional Food Hub, Ms. Zafen contacted the San Diego Growers - a group of small and mid-scale producers who work to increase long-term viability and economic opportunities for local farmers. Happy Rich Broccoli was chosen because the group felt this humble vegetable variety could potentially overcome some major farm to school barriers. These included the limited capacity to process foods in schools and the low prices paid to farmers for raw products. The plant’s small crowns and long, spindly florets seemed to be a product that the growers could field pick and pack as “ready to use” broccoli florets. This would avoid the need for any processing in schools (other than washing) therefore adding value to the crop for farmers. However, before it was picked, it had to be planted and to do that SDUSD had to commit to purchasing the broccoli at harvest time. With a plan in hand, farmers planted 4000 broccoli starts on 5 acres of San Diego’s prime agricultural land in November 2010.
Of course, things never turn out exactly as planned. In the end, the broccoli did need to be processed. SDUSD had two choices: send the broccoli to a processor in Los Angeles or process the local broccoli in school kitchens. Sending the broccoli to a processor would add an additional $1.35 a pound to the cost of broccoli and 400 miles to the food. The challenge was that SDUSD Food Services had never processed 1,750 pounds of raw broccoli in one day, let alone 8,000 pounds in a month!
SDUSD staff and farmers alike thought long and hard about what to do and finally determined that processing in the schools was the best option. Within a few days, training sessions were held for the Food Services staff. New work methods and recipes demonstrating how to chop and cook raw broccoli were distributed and central office staff members descended on the kitchens to lend a helping hand, if needed, on delivery day. On February 28th, SDUSD received its first order of 1,750 pounds of Happy Rich Broccoli. The following Wednesday, salad bars across the district were stocked with custom grown, farm fresh broccoli. In addition, broccoli was cooked and served on hot lunch entrees such as Broccoli and Cheese Baked Potatoes, and Vegetarian Pizzas.
Thus this tasty, but often maligned vegetable is being gobbled up by the forkful because of a simple question, a bit of imagination, and a commitment to the local community. SDUSD’s students are eating broccoli and loving it!
About the author: Vanessa Zajfen is a Farm to School Specialist at SDUSD Food Service Department in San Diego, California.
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