Harrisonburg City Public Schools in Harrisonburg, Virginia
In June of 2010, the USDA Farm to School Team had the pleasure of visiting Harrisonburg City Public Schools in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The visit to the district - the sixth of the fifteen visits - included discussions with the school food service director, the high school cafeteria manager, a local farmer, the manager of a produce auction, the co-owner of a local meat processing facility and other key players in local purchasing.
Harrisonburg City Public Schools is an urban district located in Central Virginia and serves approximately 3,500 meals in eight school sites. In the 2009-2010 school year, the district’s enrollment included 63 percent of students receiving free or reduced-priced meals.
Students at Harrisonburg City Schools push through the lunch line and up the salad bar. They are especially excited for the fresh, local Bibb lettuce that is regularly available in the lunch line. A local farmer, which many of the students know by name, delivers the hydroponic lettuce to the eight schools each week.
During the site visit, students enjoyed delicious strawberries that had been picked the previous day from a local farmer who sells through the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction. The menu that day offered local foods for the children to enjoy including items on the fresh vegetable pizza, spaghetti with meat sauce, wheat rolls, and broccoli and tomatoes in the salad bar.
With an enthusiastic food service director, Andrea Early, students at Harrisonburg City Public Schools have been able to try over twenty-one different local products, including local meat, since 2007. In fact, on days when local apples are not served due to seasonality, the students ask the cafeteria manager: What happened to the “tasty” apples?
A key component of Harrisonburg City Public Schools’ success in local purchasing is open communication with producers. Ms. Early and the cafeteria managers maintain strong working relationships with all of the farmers from which they purchase, so that delivery times, quantities, pack size, and other important specifications can be adjusted as needed. Another important component of their Farm to School efforts is the buy-in and contribution of the school food service staff, who often times spend more time preparing foods from scratch then they did in the past. The staff feels that it is worth the time to prepare healthful foods for their students.