Lessons from the Salem Public School District
Salem Public Schools have participated in our Harvest of the Month program since its inception five years ago. This summer, we interviewed Deborah Jeffers and Patrice Toomey–the district’s Food Service Director and Program Manager, respectively– on their high school’s innovative dining services and how they incorporate Harvest of the Month to the district’s school food program. In addition to our interview with them, they invited us to Salem’s farmers’ market where they provided Summer Food Service (which included a delicious edamame salad) to children between the ages of 0-18.
Salem Public Schools have worked with Moraine Farm, Three Sisters Farm, and more recently Brooksby Farm. Although Moraine Farm closed, Deb still works with the farm’s trustees and purchases food from a variety of other local farms.
Salem High School also grows vegetables in their Freight Farm, which is run by a Salem High School’s Graeme Marcoux (a member of our Network Leadership Team) and students. In their Freight Farm, they grow what Patrice calls a “spring mix,” which includes baby kale, baby spinach, and watercress. The Freight Farm is harvested like a revolving farm where a quarter of an acre is harvested per week (the entire Freight Farm is equal to an acre of land). Deb purchases the harvested greens from Salem High at market price. She states that “ the money goes back to Salem’s revolving farm programs so they can make repairs, buy new supplies, stipend a student, or stipend a teacher during the summer.”
Other than the farms, Salem Public Schools also participates in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which highlights areas where local produce is available.
For seafood, Deb sources local fish from Cape Ann Fresh, located in Gloucester. Local seafood is served once a week at the high school and once a month at the other schools in the district . Deb says that the fish recipe that the high school students “love the most is the regular Ritz cracker on the top with butter (recipe). The kids just love it. And if they don’t get it, like if [Cape Ann Fresh] couldn’t make a delivery, kids are asking for it.” At the elementary schools, fish tacos are popular.
For Harvest of the Month promotions, Deb and Patrice put up the posters in the lunchrooms every
month.They also utilize the trading cards when they can. Patrice commented that through their partnership with UMASS Extension, “when they do nutrition education and when we partner with them, we give them the HOTM cards to push that particular crop of the month.” During our visit, they also passed out the trading cards for peaches, August’s Harvest of the Month, at Salem’s farmers’ market to the children they were serving.
For this upcoming school year, Deb and Patrice are planning to increase their promotions of the Harvest of the Month Program. Patrice says, “we’re planning to do some press releases as well as posters and flyers. And now that we are completely CEP (Community Eligibility Provision) across the district, it’s easier because we don’t have to do free and reduced lunches at our schools, and less paperwork means more time for promoting and implementing Harvest of the Month!.”
In addition, Deb and Patrice are trying to encourage integrating Harvest of the Month and nutrition education in the classroom. Deb emphasizes the importance of healthy eating for students, “we tell teachers that it is beneficial to them to get their kids to eat breakfast and lunch and they’re portioned correctly. It helps their students focus, helps them with their grades–so we really ask them to work with us.” For this upcoming year, they are involved in providing a breakfast for the district’s 750 teachers and paraprofessionals. They are planning to print out stickers to give out during the breakfast to create buzz about the programs that they are doing–including Harvest of the Month.
Advice and Challenges
Since Deb and Patrice have taken over as food service director and project manager in 2008, they have made many improvements on students’ dining experience. One of the major changes was at the high school, where they turned the three lunchrooms into a collegiate dining format. Each floor has a different theme: Home Cooking (with rotisserie chicken and a taco bar), Deli and Pizzeria, and Grill. There is also a salad bar on each floor. Since then, lunch participation has soared from 37% in 2008 to 80% this past March.
This year, they are planning to extend this kind of collegiate dining program to one of their middle schools, hoping that it will get more students to participate when they get to high school. The same goes with the breakfast program, which Deb and Patrice are also working on, including promoting a second chance breakfast among the schools. A second chance breakfast gives students the opportunity to eat if they are unable to before the start of the school day. Patrice notes that “Deb’s theory is that if the kids get used to eating breakfast regularly, they’re going to continue as they get older. Since we’ve been promoting breakfast for four years, we’ve seen a big jump with the high schoolers.”
Because they are involved in many projects, one key area that Deb and Patrice are challenged with is not having enough time to do promotions. For Harvest of the Month specifically, Deb noted that, “our biggest challenge [promoting] HOTM is finding the time to do that. It’s on the plates, but I’m just not marketing that.” She elaborated saying, “we are trying to get better. We had a lot on our plate before, but we’re gonna start working on doing more promotions,” to share what we are doing in the cafeteria with the larger community.