Cafeteria revolution: School Food Summit on Feb. 15

Tue, 02/12/2013 - 12:00pm
Almanac Weekly

Long, long ago, during my very first week of elementary school, I signed up for hot lunch – and that week was the end of it. The culinary experience was so foul that I became a confirmed brown-bagger for the rest of my educational career. You may have had a similar experience, Dear Reader, and reports from contemporary kids suggest that things haven’t changed all that much since.

Some folks, including teams of activist parents, have been working awfully hard in recent years to change that state of affairs. And in some school districts at least, harried food program administrators have been trying to help, but tend to run into a brick wall of funding limitations as state and federal support gets cut back. Starch is cheap and filling, so starchy foods still tend to claim center stage.

Luckily, the mid-Hudson is a bountiful agricultural region, and healthy, tasty cafeteria menus rich in sustainable local produce instead of fast food should not be an impossible goal here, given enough commitment, planning and organization. Folks who seriously want to see their kids eating well during the schoolday might want to check out the first regional “School Food Summit 2013: Celebrating Our Children, Food and Future,” scheduled for Friday, February 15 at the Rondout Valley High School.

The School Food Summit will combines hands-on food preparation for school food service staff from the region with a community brainstorming session with an all-star group of chefs and school food advocates to identify specific, achievable ways to get more local food into our schools. During the day, a Kitchen Camp will enable food service employees to try out new cafeteria-scale recipes that put locally grown ingredients to use. The results will be part of the offerings at the Local Food Fair that will open up the event to the general public beginning at 5:30 p.m., featuring tables of farmers, students and organizations involved with local food.

At 7 p.m., Creek Iverson and Lisa Mitten will perform songs of farms and food, then lead a procession from the cafeteria to the auditorium for the 7:30 program, “Local Food Goes to School.” Chef Ann Cooper, a/k/a the Renegade Lunch Lady, a Culinary Institute of America graduate and changemaker in school cafeterias across the nation, will be the keynote speaker, and will moderate an expert panel and community dialogue after her remarks. Panelists will include chef Tim Cipriano from No Kid Hungry/Share Our Strength; Bruce Davenport, president of the Rondout Valley Growers’ Association; Todd Fowler from National Farm to School; Julie Holbrook, director of Food Service at Keene Central School; Janet Poppendieck, author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America; and Chris Van Damm, director of food service for the Rondout Valley School District.

“All the elements are here for a model farm-to-school program, and we are very grateful to the Rondout Valley School District for opening its doors to help make this event happen.” said Summit organizer Nicci Cagan of From the Ground Up. “It brings community, classroom and cafeteria together…Local food is good for our children and good for our local economy. ”

The Food School Summit 2013 is sponsored by the Marbletown PTA, Rondout Valley Growers, From the Ground Up, Slow Food Hudson Valley, UlsterCorps and the Chefs’ Consortium. For more information, visit www.rondoutvalleygrowers.org or contact Nicci Cagan at [email protected] or (845) 687-4124. If you’d like to volunteer to help out at the event, visit www.ulstercorps.org.

“School Food Summit 2013: Celebrating Our Children, Food and Future,” Friday, February 15, 5:30 p.m., free, Rondout Valley High School, 122 Kyserike Road, Stone Ridge; (845) 687-4124, [email protected], www.rondoutvalleygrowers.org.