by Erika Kosina
Things have always been a bit different up on the Ridge, and Grizzly Hill Elementary School in the Twin Ridges School District in North San Juan is no exception. With only about 100 students, it’s easier for the school to experiment with new ways of doing things, and Grizzly Hill is doing just that with its school meal program.
First of all, the school provides a free breakfast and lunch to all of its students — a much-needed supplement for its students, since over 90 percent of them qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Just because these meals are free, though, doesn’t mean they are low quality. All of the meals and beverages meet state and federal requirements, based on USDA dietary guidelines. Even better, Grizzly Hill’s food service program uses as much organic and local produce as they can afford, supplementing the cost of food with community fundraisers. The community is extremely supportive of the school’s meal program. The shift to organic and local started when a few passionate parents not only wanted to see better quality food in the school’s meals, but also took the initiative to figure out how to pay for it.
With a little help from Sierra Harvest, who donated a salad bar to the school earlier this year, Grizzly Hill is making even more changes to their meal program. The salad bar is stocked with an abundance of salad fixings three to four days a week, and the kids and staff (and parents) are “eating it up.”
Kids can choose from 16 different ingredients to accompany a green lettuce mix: tomatoes, pepperoncini, baby corn, black olives, red bell peppers, carrots, onions, and hard-boiled eggs are often in the mix. Some of the produce is locally sourced from nearby Mountain Bounty farm, but their favorite produce is about as local as you can get — the school garden! Students are free to “graze” in the garden to supplement their school meals. Grizzly Hill also recently planted an orchard on the school property.
It’s not just the students who are enjoying the salad bar. Paraprofessional Karen Peake, who works at the school, says, “The faculty are totally wild about this.”
Another benefit is a reduction in food waste. Erika Triglia, a Grizzly Hill parent, points out, since the kids “get to pick what they want, they don’t throw it away.”
The salad bar has enabled everyone associated with the school to eat a healthier diet and enjoy those one-and-a-half (for kids aged four to eight) to three (for adults) cups of vegetables the USDA recommends we consume daily. Adds Peake, “The bottom line is that the kids and staff are eating more veggies since we got this salad bar.”
Grizzly Hill isn’t stopping with fresh, organic, local vegetables. They are working with Sierra Harvest to include locally raised, grass-fed beef in the school meal program. Mike Blagg donated a live dairy steer to the school in November, and Charlie Grande is raising it on his ranch in Penn Valley. The only cost the school will need to cover is the processing of the animal in a USDA facility.
This pilot program is bound to get the attention of other schools that are looking for creative ways to get more local food on their school menus. With the generous support of a business sponsorship from BriarPatch Co-op, Sierra Harvest is looking forward to helping these dreams become a reality in Nevada County.
Erika Kosina is the Communications and Events Coordinator for Sierra Harvest, a local non-profit whose mission is to educate, inspire, and connect Nevada County families to fresh, local, seasonal food.