Riverside Unified School District in Riverside, California
Thanks to the hard work of district staff and community partners, students at Riverside Unified School District can now choose to eat lunch from a salad bar five days a week. On September 16-17, 2010, the USDA Farm to School Team visited Riverside Unified School District to meet with the school food service director and staff, teachers, farmers, and community partners to learn about their Farm to School efforts.
Riverside Unified School District serves the City of Riverside, CA, and is located approximately 60 miles east of the City of Los Angeles. In school year 2009-2010, the district enrolled 43,000 students, 60 percent of whom were eligible for free or reduced priced meals. On average, the district serves 32,000 meals per day, using both a large central kitchen and on-site school kitchen facilities to prepare meals.
The district’s Farm to School efforts started in 2005, with a new food service director versed in the implementation of Farm to School and the support of a nearby University. The district’s flagship initiative is the “Farmers’ Market Salad Bar,” which enables students to choose the salad bar five days a week as a reimbursable meal and, when available, features fresh local produce. The initiative has expanded from a salad bar in one school in 2005, to offering a salad bar as a reimbursable meal in 29 of the district’s 31 elementary schools in 2010.
Local products are purchased directly from farmers and through their contracted distributor. In most cases, farmers deliver their product to the central kitchen, where it is redistributed to school sites throughout the district. Local items have included apples, strawberries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, citrus, corn, cucumbers, grapes, kiwi, lettuce melons, nectarines, onions, peaches, pears, bell peppers, spinach, tomatoes, garlic and cilantro. The district estimated spending $400,000 on local produce in the 2009-2010 school year.
Beyond the cafeteria, the students at Riverside Unified School District receive lessons on agriculture and nutrition in a variety of ways. For example, students at Emerson Elementary School have garden plots in a one acre community garden adjacent to the playground, giving them an opportunity to grow and sample garden fresh produce. And, local farmers visit the classrooms to talk with students about the work on their farm and the harvest they produce. To better understand the impact the salad bars have had on students, the district has participated in a number of evaluations.
Rodney Taylor is the Nutrition Services Director for Riverside Unified School District, and he shared the following tips for getting started with Farm to School:
- It is very important to involve kitchen staff early in the process of change.
- Find community partners—they can be very helpful.
- Start at schools that are willing to make changes, and then move to schools where there might be more resistance.
- Be sure to cut up the fruit and vegetables rather than leaving them whole; kids are more likely to eat it.