GROTON — After years of pizza, hot dogs and candy as staples in students’ daily diets, schools are wising up to the fact that they need not patronize young people’s natural desire for sweets and chicken nuggets.
They can still satisfy youthful palates while at the same time serving nutritious meals.
That was the theme that emerged at a symposium held last week at Groton School hosted by a panel of school chefs and local growers of fruits and vegetables.
Called by event planners “Three Chefs, Three Schools,” the symposium featured food service director for The Bromfield School in Harvard, Paul Corrente; food service director for Groton School, Jed Coughlin; food service director for the Groton-Dunstable Schools Maria Barker; and from Littleton’s Springdell Farm, Jamie Cruz and Paula Robinson.
“We wanted to do something in conjunction with the Groton Reads program which features the book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. We thought it presented a great opportunity for us to inform people about how their kids and the food they eat at school connect to local growers,” explained Bobbie Spiegelman, a member of Groton Local.
“The farm-to-school movement is huge,” she said. “It started back in 2000 and now is a national movement whose whole agenda is to have nutritional food served for school lunch programs while having their directors connect to local growers. Ideally, that connection would be a seasonal one making available for school lunch programs whatever kind of produce is available.”
“We at Groton School have been trying to go green for a long time,” said Coughlin. “We already have a composting program working. I’d like to be able to work in cooperation with Bobbie who brought me into the effort to try and bring local farmers into public and private schools … I believe that it can really benefit our student body.
“In fact, if we can really do it, bringing local growers and food service providers together can only benefit everyone in this current economy,” Coughlin said.
“Not that schools have been doing a bad job of feeding kids,” said Spiegelman. “There’s been a lot of good things happening like Alice Waters in California who began the edible schoolyard program where students raise food for their own lunches. It’s a movement that’s getting lots and lots of momentum.”
Groups such as Groton Local and the town-sponsored Sustainability Committee have gotten off the ground quickly over the past year. The tie-in to Groton Reads conducted by the Groton Public Library has only worked to bring even more attention to their efforts in promoting local agriculture as well as businesses.
“We incorporate a lot of locally grown food in our menus,” said Corrente. “Doing so helps keep our neighbors in business, the food tastes good, and it’s certainly healthier for the students.
“And one of the good things about buying local,” he said, “is that I can go right to the farmers and see what their crop looks like. It’s very cool to be able to tell our students where their food comes from. We are in the education business after all, and this can be made into a learning experience for the kids.”
Adding to the challenge of coming up with more nutritious meals that kids will actually eat, food directors and chefs for local schools must also contend with serving hundreds of meals a day and in the case of boarding schools, doing that at least three times a day. For those reasons, said those on the panel, it was important to get such related issues as food waste and recycling under control.
“This program was a wonderful idea,” enthused Groton Selectman Anna Eliot after attending the symposium. “Serving more nutritious meals helps local farms and encourages agriculture. We should get more farms to produce for local schools because they provide a ready market for their goods.”
Lending emphasis to the wide ranging goods local farms can offer, the 70 plus people who attended enjoyed a tasty buffet and sparkling apple cider from Harvard’s Carlson Orchards.
“The turnout was very encouraging,” concluded Spiegelman. “We were very pleased with the number of people who came out.”
It is not too late for those interested in participating in other Groton Reads events such as the Teen/Parent Cooking Class scheduled for March 31, the Eat Local Expo on April 5, and a meeting of the Book Group on April 7 where Groton Local members will ask “Where do we go from here?”