Union Public School District in Tulsa, Oklahoma
On September 20-21, 2011, the USDA Farm to School Team visited Union Public School District. During the two day visit, the Team met with food service staff, district administrators, state agency representatives, farmers, and business representatives to learn more about their Farm to School activities.
Union Public School District is located in the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and serves students of southeast Tulsa and a portion of the neighboring community of Broken Arrow. In school year 2009-2010, the district enrolled approximately 15,000 students, of whom 57 percent were eligible for free or reduced-priced meals. On average, in the 2009-2010 school year, Union Public School District served 7,772 lunches per day at 18 schools.
The districts Farm to School efforts started in 2007 with the arrival of a new school food service director who brought several years of Farm to School experience from previous work at a neighboring school district. This new director was quick to reach out to partners to help launch the efforts at Union Public School District. Initial conversations included the superintendent, school board, PTA, school food service staff and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Farm to School Program, all of whom were key stakeholders.
Oklahoma has a state-wide Farm to School program and its Department of Agriculture funds a full-time Farm to School Coordinator. With the help of the Oklahoma’s Farm to School Coordinator and the state-wide program, school districts (including Union Public School District) are able to make connections with Oklahoma farmers, giving them access to various local products. At Union Public School District the local products have included watermelon, cantaloupe, and spring mix. The district hopes to expand their effort by adding locally grown tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, spinach, apples, and sweet potatoes to its menus and recipes.
In addition to purchasing locally grown produce, agriculture and health education is an important Farm to School component at Union Public School District. For example, in partnership with a local nonprofit organization, elementary students have science lessons in a large school garden and have access to an afterschool gardening club. The district also turns to Oklahoma’s “Ag in the Classroom” for age-specific educational materials.
Union Public School District’s Director of Child Nutrition, Lisa Griffin, offered the following tips to schools interested in beginning a Farm to School initiatives:
- Start small – don’t overwhelm staff; introduce ideas slowly through meetings, conversations, and emails.
- Provide ample culinary training for staff, especially if you are introducing new, fresh products.
- Continue to emphasize the mission. The connection must be made between your mission and Farm to School activities.
- Don’t forget to incorporate custodial services in meetings.
- Find community partners—this is very important.
- If available, work with your State Farm to School program or coordinator.