locally grown produce in school lunches

Locally Grown – and Straight-to-Our-School Menu!

“We are basically the biggest restaurant chain in town!”

Meet Arianne Corbett. If your child eats breakfast or lunch at a Hillsborough County Public School, she’s the one planning their menu. She’s a school nutritionist in a post-pandemic world.

“The pandemic shifted the whole model of school feeding,” she said. “When the world shut down, our school nutrition programs kept going, but we had to pivot to new ways of serving kids. However, now we are getting back to our chef-inspired entrees. We’re getting back to our fresh produce. We are reintroducing students to these fresh foods again.”

And that means… strawberries!

locally grown produce in school lunches

Locally Grown Produce in School Lunches

Chances are, your kiddos came home raving about the fresh cup of strawberries they got in their cafeteria during the months of February and March. Those berries were the result of a partnership between our district and Wish Farms. Student Nutrition Services reached out to the owner of Wish Farms and talked about getting Plant City strawberries on the menu. Additionally, they wanted to make sure the students understood where the berries came from. Wish Farms was excited to create this partnership and the Student Nutrition Services team sprang into action to celebrate strawberry season throughout the district!

During the four weeks of the partnership, HCPS purchased more than 30,000 pounds of local strawberries!

Student Nutrition Services plans to introduce a different Florida-grown fruit or veggie every month. For April, it will be Florida-grown cucumbers!

locally grown produce in school lunches

This is a good start, but it was not enough for Corbett. So this passionate nutritionist joined forces with Jenna Kaczmarski and the non-profit organization called Locally Grown. This is an important partnership for our schools. It means there is an outside organization that is focused on nothing except supporting the district’s efforts to put nutritious foods in our schools.

Locally Grown asked for, and received, the farm-to-school planning grant, which will allow Locally Grown and Hillsborough County Schools to build a plan for a farm-to-school future with local purchasing, food and nutrition education, and supports for school gardens throughout the county.

Some of the money from the grant was put to amazing use building a school garden at Lockhart Elementary Magnet. The students got to appreciate the process of planting their broccoli, watching it grow and then eating it in the school cafeteria. You’ve never seen so many kids excited to eat broccoli!

“As an added perk,” explains Kaczmarski, “the students grew so much broccoli that there was plenty left over the put in the school pantry to help feed families over the weekends!”

locally grown produce in school lunches

So what’s the end goal, besides more fresh berries in bellies?

“Our goal is to increase students’ access to healthy fresh fruits and vegetables and use our purchasing power to be an economic engine for Hillsborough County and the state of Florida,” said Corbett. “Locally Grown, in support of that goal, wants to build the relationships that allow us to connect the students to where their food comes from. It’s an important vehicle for them to make healthier choices.”

What’s the old saying… “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

Hopefully, the same is true for broccoli!

Originally published in the April 2023 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.


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