First Day of School

The first day of school went great.  Except we were 1/2 hour late picking up the kids.  Madison district gets out earlier now, and we forgot.  Apparently, we weren’t the only ones–I just hope we haven’t already been put on the bad parents list I am absolutely certain they keep in the office.

I’m excited about school lunches this year.  I talked to the Patricia Hunn, cafeteria manager at Madison Camelview, and, if my first impression is accurate, she’s brilliant.  She’s knowledgeable and seems enthusiastic about improving the food program.  She brought up starting a school garden, and my heart skipped a beat.  She said Camelview used to have one–I’ll have to find out more about that.  We talked about several options, but she said a farm-to-school program would be the best thing to spend this year putting into place.  The main obstacle is finding a farm willing to participate.  That might be a good place to start, then.

Last Saturday I hit up the downtown farmers’ market looking for farmers.  First I went to One Windmill Farm because they’re the biggest.  I talked to the weird old guy who runs the farm–I think his name is John.  As he was ringing up my squash and melons, I asked him if his farm would be interested in participating in a farm-to-school program in the Madison elementary district.  He said nothing.  He didn’t even look at me.  After I’d paid, he finally looked up.  “We tried that many years ago and the bureaucracy was terrible.  I had to report every employee for tax purposes and blah blah blah blah blah.  I wish I’d listened more carefully, but I was just squirming and sweating and I wanted to leave.  I’m not going back to his stupid stall.  The signs don’t even tell you if the stuff is organic.  They have carrots in August, too, which is suspect.  Plus, on their website, you have to listen to John Denver (Thank God I’m a Country Boy) in order to see the slide show.  I love their fruit, though.  Maybe I’ll find forgiveness in my heart–but I definitely won’t go next week.

So, I was off to a less than auspicious start.  The next stall, the IRC tables, couldn’t have been cooler.  I love the International Rescue Committee because they’ve helped nearly all my students.  They’re an amazing organization.  The IRC now has several farmers, mostly Somali refugees, I think, renting land in Gila Bend.  The New Roots Farm Program allows refugees to rebuild their lives and do meaningful work–I go to their tables every time I go downtown.  The people are great.  I talked to two Somali women last time and they couldn’t have been friendlier.  One of these days, I’ll bring a Somali student to translate for me, so I can ask more questions.  The guy volunteering (I forgot his name–stupid, stupid) was very cute.  If I see him again, I’ll try to set him up with one of my single friends.  He said the IRC might be receptive to the farm-to-school program and gave me the New Roots Farm coordinator’s number.  I’m supposed to call early next week.  I can’t wait.

The other success was a gentleman selling produce at the Crooked Sky Farm.  He said the farmer, Frank, might be interested.  I’m calling him this week.  In addition to being very friendly, he was giving out sample of jujubes which were delicious.  I got a little basket of purple okra, too.  I love him very much.

Finally, I got a lead from a new company started by two ASU graduates called Chow Locally, an internet subscription program working with many local farmers–kind of like a commercial CSA.  You can buy by the month, so I think I’ll try them and report back.  The woman handing out information at the market said that I should call Chris Wharton (PhD), one of the business’ founders.

I hope one of these pans out.  I have a couple more farms I want to contact, so I’ll update soon.  If the IRC is interested, then all my dreams will have come true.

I got the school lunch menu today, and it’s not completely horrifying.  You’ll see there’s a lot of room for improvement, though.  True–a few times a week, kids get two real vegetables.  But frequently they get a vegetable and a “vegetable.”  In the “vegetable” category, we have mashed potatoes, oven fries, baked beans, ice berg lettuce–foods that are either really high in carbohydrates, really low in nutrients or both.  Why not squash, sweet potato fries, spicy black beans or braised kale?  I also don’t get why kids have the option of a turkey dog when the cafeteria’s serving hummus, veggies and cheese.  When the cafeteria is offering a fresh, healthy, tasty lunch, why would they offer the choice of a bland, unattractive, processed one?  I have a few more issues (my issues with the milk alone might need a separate blog), but it seems like lunches are improving overall–there’s hope.

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8 Comments on “First Day of School”

  1. If you got to partner with the IRC wouldn’t that be the most fantastic collision of your interests?!?! It’s kind of meant to be!

  2. It is awesome that you are working toward better food in your children’s school. I taught at a school that had tried a couple of times to offer a better lunch program. It didn’t work out the first time because the red tape and endless paperwork our cafeteria manager had to take on for reporting to the USDA free/reduced lunch program was insurmountable. They tried again last year and I believe they will start it this fall. The school does not have a cafeteria staff (too small), so could not support a farm to schol program, but instead went with a better provider. They are using a company called “Revolution Foods.” Good luck and I look forward to following you through the process. Hopefully some more parents hop on board and help you out!

    • I can’t even tell you how much the encouragement helps. I’ve steeled myself against the onslaught of paperwork involved. Thanks so much for the support. BTW–I love your blog! Such and inspiration.

    • Margot Mason says:

      I am entranced by your report here—OK, could I be the lucky single friend you mention about the IRC contact? I started yesterday of course–Went well but I have lots of loose ends about my dream for our school garden… Apathetic school staff leads me to look at the after school program and community/parents as my only hope to make the Manzanita Mesquite Magic Garden/ Orchard a sustainable project! Thursday is my networking day I don’t work (FYI) I go to Hoofbeats with Heart in San Tan in am to meet w/ Director about sensory garden…

      • Even the English teachers won’t help??? I’ll keep you posted on the IRC–keep your fingers crossed. Let me know what happens at Hoofbeats. Make sure you get something with pictures on the school web site and in the school newsletter. See if the office can do a mailing for you, too.

    • I just saw this–that’s so great. I was a teacher too-are you still teaching? A few parents have joined me and I’m setting aside about 5 hours a week to work on the project. Our cafeteria manager is great and I’m feeling pretty good about the whole thing. BTW–I love your blog–inspiring and beautifully written.

      • No, I am not teaching anymore. I left the classroom when my son was born, March of last year. It has only been a year and a half and I am starting to miss it. The cost of childcare was too much when the second one came, and I had this opportunity to stay home, so I took it in a heartbeat. Next year my older child starts Kindergarten, so I may go back part time at that point, but not sure yet. What did you teach? I taught the primary grades 2 – 4 at a really wonderful charter school just about a mile from my home.

        I love our blog too! I marvel at how quickly and adeptly you can write on a topic. I say quick because you post frequently. Later in your $200 a week journey, I would really love to “chat” about the successes and challenges.


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