2009-09-10 / News

Parents to join kids for ‘15-mile menu’

By Stacy Jones

In the world of food, nothing has been more maligned than the school lunch.

But things are about to change – at least here in Jamestown – as the district partners with Kids First, a non-profit focused on improving the nutritional and physical well-being of children, and Sodexo, the district’s food service provider, to redefine the image of cafeteria food.

On Tuesday, Sept. 15, Jamestown schools will serve the “15- mile menu” – an all-local lunch – to students at the Melrose Avenue and Lawn Avenue schools. All the food served during the event will have been sourced from within 15 miles of Jamestown.

“I feel it is a great opportunity to expose children to a local experience,” said Melrose School Principal Carrie Melucci. “We have so many resources right in our backyard. Providing this lunch opportunity is a great way to teach children about our community and what it has to offer.” Parents have been invited to join their children for lunch at the schools that day.

The “15-mile menu” concept originated from Kids First’s Farm-to-School program. Started in 2005, the program is a statewide initiative that brings Rhode Island-grown foods into school cafeterias. The overriding goals of the program – and the all-local lunch event – are to support the local food economy, promote Rhode Island-grown foods and the state’s farms, and to educate students about healthy eating.

The Jamestown school district will be the first in the state to take part in the all-local lunch event.

“Jamestown is a community that supports its local businesses,” said Karin Wetherill, associate director of Kids First. “Educators, administrators, students and parents are very vocal in wanting healthy foods. It’s a wonderful partnership, which is what you need to get change.”

One local business eager for a new direction in school menus is the Village Hearth Bakery. Owners Doriana Carella and Andrea Colognese have often discussed donating their fresh baked breads to the school for sandwiches — a process that is not as straightforward as it might seem. The couple – whose two children attend Jamestown schools – is excited about the opportunity to participate in the lunch event for a number of reasons.

“We are happy to get involved. One of the most important things to us are kids and their nutrition,” Carella said. “Right now, the food in the schools is deplorable. It’s all processed foods from cans and boxes that only needs to be heated up. Nothing is fresh or cooked on site.”

It is time to dispel the notion that it’s more expensive to eat locally, Carella said.

“In fact, it’s more expensive to eat processed foods,” she said. “It’s important for kids and everyone else to support the idea of locally grown foods. It’s a growing area; more people are getting interested. Especially here in Jamestown, people are very concerned [about] where their food is coming from and how it is prepared.”

In addition to the Village Hearth Bakery, which is providing approximately 200 rolls (two to three varieties, all containing whole grains), other participants include Schartner Farms and Rhody Fresh, which will supply fruits and vegetables, and milk, respectively.

The “buy local” movement is taking place nationwide, with some states and communities embracing the idea more than others. In Rhode Island, it hasn’t been too difficult getting businesses, schools and others in the state to get on board, Wetherill said.

“We’re making great strides,” she said. For example, the distribution of foods from farmers to local entities has been streamlined, benefiting both farmers and the local community. In the past, farmers dealt only with wholesale or retail distributors; now, they sell directly to food suppliers, like Sodexo.

“This is something new,” Wetherill said. Kids First has “helped change the purchasing agreement between schools and farms. As a result, there are three to four farms growing crops especially for Rhode Island schools,” she said.

A recent tally shows that all 36 school districts in the state, through their food service providers, made local purchases from the 2008 Farm-to-School harvest. More than 40,000 pounds — over two tons— of R.I.-grown potatoes were served in the state’s schools. Other crops grown for R.I. schools include apples, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, squash, broccoli, carrots and sugar snap peas.

As food contamination outbreaks and produce recalls regularly make news, the message to buy and eat locally is being heard.

“It’s a local movement that resonates with the public, especially parents,” Wetherill said. “More people are asking ‘Why are we buying apples from Washington state when an apple orchard in Smithfield has delicious apples.’”

Of the 15-mile menu, Carella said, “I hope the effort continues and isn’t just a one-time thing.”

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