HOTM Profile: Webster Public Schools

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School District Webster Public Schools
Location Webster, MA
Student Population 1900
Cafeterias 3
Lunches Served Per Day 1230
Breakfasts Served Per Day 950


Starting a Local Foods Program with Harvest of the Month:
Lessons from the Webster Public School District

Food Service Director Ellen Nylen was not only new to the Webster School District, but also new to Massachusetts, and chose to participate in the Harvest of the Month program as a way to demonstrate her interest in introducing local, fresh produce to the students eating in her cafeterias. This, “signal[ed] to the school district that this was the direction I wanted to go,” said Nylen, and from the start of the year she worked to arrange taste tests, promote Harvest of the Month, and share her enthusiasm for farm to school with students, administrators, and parents.

Procurement: Lesson #1 Talk with Your Existing Distributors

Nylen works with Kapa Food Supply, based in Webster, as well as the Worcester Regional Food Hub to source her Harvest of the Month crops. Despite the fact that she has time constraints limiting her ability reach out to a wide number of suppliers to source single ingredients she recommends pullquote-Websterreaching out to Mass. Farm to school.  She typically gives her suppliers advance notice for any special orders (ie. 70 pounds of local tomatoes), and they have been able to fulfill her requests. 

Promotion & Implementation: Lesson #2 Start with Taste Tests

Nylen kicked off the program by doing, “a presentation at the parents’ open house… at the beginning of the year, [she] brought posters and trading cards,” and received a very positive response from everyone there. It was a great opportunity to share her plans for the school year with parents & caregivers as well as teachers and administration.

Harvest of the Month samples and taste tests have been, “really well received by the kids, teachers, and parents.” She tries to promote these taste tests via Twitter when possible. (@ChefEWPS). Nylen has been impressed with the recipes provided on the Mass. Farm to School website, and tends to use those recipes when planning for her Harvest of the Month taste tests or menu planning.

She’s seen great success in getting kids excited about vegetables by sampling new recipes. Nylen has found high school students in her district are less enthusiastic about choosing vegetables, but they really enjoyed both the Tomato, Corn & Black Bean Salad and the Baked Carrots. She also created her own Kale Smoothie recipe and used it for a breakfast in the classroom taste test and, “it was a huge hit!” Everyone was involved in helping distribute the smoothies (administration, teachers, and even the principal) and Nylen had the kids guess what the different ingredients were in the smoothies, “which the kids loved [to do].”

Advice & Challenges: Lesson #3 Grow Slowly & Strategically

Nylen recommends having a conversation with your main distributor at the start of the year to let them know, “you’re going to be asking for stuff that’s outside the normal order,” on occassion and, “make sure they’re on board with that.” Kapa Food Supply was very receptive to Nylen’s Harvest of the Month goals. She also recommends starting small, incorporating Harvest of the Month through samples and taste testing before committing to full menu items, so as to not get overwhelmed when you’re just starting out.

The main challenge Nylen faces is the time it takes to source some of the Harvest of the Month crops and then to implement the taste tests, but she’s planning on assigning some of the duties to one or two of her staff members and continue to participate in Harvest of the Month next year. She’s seen how enthusiastic the students are when presented with new menu items, and she’s looking to grow the program even more by including Harvest of the Month activities for the elementary school students and to provide further detail about the importance of farm to school for the high school students.

Learn more about Harvest of the Month & Sign Up for the 2017-18 Year Here!