More schools are beginning to see the cafeteria as an extension of the classroom. Avon Lake schools want students to connect the dots between local farms and their cafeterias with the help of Farm Fare.
CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - School lunches have come a long way, from cardboard pizza to chicken patties. More schools are now incorporating locally grown food on lunch trays.
When kids line up for lunch, Avon Lake Schools Food Service Director Shannon FitzGerald wants students to connect the dots between local farms and their cafeterias. She sees the lunchroom as an extension of the classroom with learning opportunities.
"Where food comes from, what might be good to eat and what is grown locally here in their community," FitzGerald said.
Because of a $100,000 grant from the USDA and a bid awarded by the Ohio Schools Council to Farm Fare, which aggregates food from farmers through six nearby food hubs, several area school districts can now get locally grown produce easier and cheaper than ever before.
"Apples, peaches, lettuce, some spices and herbs, potatoes, sweet potatoes, whatever is offered, we have the ability to choose," said FitzGerald.
Laura Adiletta with Farm Fare says the number of farmers markets have doubled in recent years, and they've seen a correlation between the demand from schools looking for nutrient-packed local produce.
"Think about who are behind those requests, the parents in the PTA, the students who want to eat those juicy local peaches," says Adiletta.
The Farm Fare arrangement streamlines the purchasing and distribution process for schools, which can be cumbersome.
"It's everything all together. They can get one invoice and we provide delivery, so they can get one delivery as well," said Adiletta.
The new locked-in bid pricing is saving schools a lot.
Carrots are $25 for a 25-pound case. Those are sometimes as much as triple the price, depending on supplier, available volume and demand, according to Farm Fare.
Green beans are $25.50 per 15-pound case, Early in the season, those can cost as much at $40.
Golden Delicious Apples are $30 for a 100-130 count case, but those same apples can go up to $36 when supply is low.
Allison Patrick with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health also reports that because the quality is better, schools in South Euclid save 5 to 10 labor hours a week because they're not spending time sifting out rotten produce shipped from far away.
Patrick says this year, local purchasing among area schools is expected to double from $40,000 last year to $80,000.
Kids like third-grader Michael Kemmer are taking notice and making healthier choices.
"I like sometimes to pick our carrots and a lettuce, like a salad," Kemmer said.
He's even building a wish list. He's hoping for blueberries and watermelon this school year.