Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Where's the Beef?

If you grew up like I did, meat came from the grocery store - placed neatly on a foam tray, wrapped in sealed plastic, and stamped with the USDA seal of approval. Or, if my mother made a weekend trip to the butcher shop in our town, wrapped in white paper with the price etched on top with a black wax pencil. I grew up in a rural area of Pennsylvania where many of my classmates grew up on farms, participated in 4-H, and butchered their own meat. My family and I did none of these things. I wouldn't have been able to tell you what happened in the interim between cute cow in the pasture and burger on the grill. All of that changed today.

Beginning last school year, our school nutrition program has slowly increased purchases of locally raised and processed ground beef from T & E Meats in Harrisonburg. Our goal for next school year is to source 100% of our bulk ground beef (used for spaghetti sauce, tacos, etc.) from local sources instead of relying on USDA commodity ground beef. Commodity dollars not used on beef will be used to purchase other commodities that are not as readily available from a local supplier. This allows us to offer a fresher product to students, while helping to fuel our local ag economy. Following is a recent article about T & E:

February is probably the calmest time of the year in the world of school nutrition, and so I decided that it was about time that I schedule a complete tour of the T & E processing facility. When I say complete, I mean complete. As in - every step in the process from moo to price per pound. So on this snowy day, the school nutrition director from surrounding Rockingham County and I set out to find out what really goes on in a small scale slaughter house and meat processing facilty.

I'll spare you the gory details, even though it was way less gory than I'd expected, but I will tell you that the process is very humane and streamlined, with a great deal of attention spent on insuring that the meat is safe to eat. In contrast to a large scale processing facility where a cow is slaughtered every 30 seconds, only one calm animal is slaughtered (with a single bullet in case you're wondering) every half hour. An inspector from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) is on site and is involved in the inspection throughout the process. From the "kill floor" (I winced just a little as I typed that), the animals are moved into a large cooler where they await further processing by the skilled meat cutters at T & E. In our case, the most expensive cuts of beef are removed and sold in the T & E retail store, while the remainder of the meat is ground and frozen and sealed in 10 pound packages and then delivered by refrigerated truck to our largest school. From there it is transported by our wonderful maintenance staff to all of our other schools, where it quickly becomes lunch for our more than 4,000 students.

And that, my friends, is where the beef is at in Harrisonburg City!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's Farm to School Week!

The Virginia Department of Education has collaborated with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to promote the Virginia Farm to School program during the week of November 9 - 13. Farm to School is an initiative that seeks to bring nutritious fresh foods from local farms to local schools.

As you may know, Harrisonburg has been working to source locally grown foods for our menus for the past two years. As the Farm to School movement grows, I am very excited to see more and more divisions beginning to source foods locally. What an opportunity for economic growth for local growers and for school nutrition directors to improve upon what we are serving to our students!

Some of the locally grown products that will be featured on our menus this week include bibb lettuce, ground beef, whole wheat flour, fresh apples, and our newest local product; fresh broccoli. In surrounding Rockingham County schools, menus will feature locally grown sweet potatoes, broccoli, apples, and whole wheat flour. Schools in Albemarle County, Greene County, and Charlottesville City will be sourcing foods through a "local food hub"; a distributor of sorts for local product that will make deliveries to schools throughout the area. Check out a link:

I mention the use of the local food hub to highlight one of the biggest barriers to schools using more local product - the "how to" of getting foods to schools. There is irony in the fact that it is much easier to get foods produced across the county to schools through large scale distributors than it is to get small amounts of locally grown foods to geographically spread out schools. In Harrisonburg, our schools are in close proximity to one another and farmers are willing to make deliveries to one or more schools. Our maintenance staff is also able to zip around to eight schools rather quickly to make food deliveries. In contrast, to include local product on his menus, the school nutrition director in Rockingham County needed to personally deliver local product to all of his 20+ schools. This would obviously not be an efficient distribution model over the long run.

The local food hub is a great solution to this problem. Like a large scale distributor, a local food hub can serve as a storage site and smaller scale distributor for local product. Farmers can sell to the hub, who in turn can sell and deliver to schools. I hope that the food hub in the Albemarle area will serve as a model for future hubs that may pop up around the state.

The farm to school movement in Virginia is still in its infancy, but is picking up momentum. It's an exciting time to be a part of feeding Virginia's students.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Recap......

The last few weeks have been busy ones in the world of School Nutrition. One of the highlights was National School Lunch Week (October 12 -16). I would love to share some pictures with you......and if I had charged the batteries in my camera for that week I would be able to. ;)

Each year, during the second week in October, we take time to recognize the contributions that school lunches make in the education of students. Did you know that over 31 million lunches are served to students each day in schools across America? Last school year, we served 588,503 lunches! In fact, eating school lunch is the popular choice among Harrisonburg students with over 78% of students dining with us each day.

Despite what you may have heard, school lunches are healthier than ever and are set to become even healthier in the near future. 2009 is a reauthorization year for federal feeding programs. The Institutes of Medicine (IOM) recently released a set of recommendations for nutrition standards for school meal patterns. The School Nutrition Association is in full support of these recommendations, which include increasing fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and decreasing sodium content of school meals.

Although our official week has come and gone, our continued goal is to provide fresh, nutritious choices to our students all year long!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Farm to School Update

It's hard to believe that September has already come and gone! The end of summer/early fall harvest has been plentiful and our cafeterias have been able to incorporate many locally grown/produced items into our fall menus.

The majority of the locally grown produce served this fall has been purchased from the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction in Dayton. Hydroponic bibb lettuce is purchased from Portwood Gardens in Dayton, a portion of our ground beef comes from T & E Meats in Harrisonburg, and most recently, pork roasts were purchased from Baker Farms in Shenandoah County.

As the weather cools and Virginia's growing season ends, more of our produce will need to be "shipped in" from warmer places. Thanks to the magic of greenhouses, we can continue to offer locally grown lettuce all winter. We'll also continue our beef and pork purchases throughout the cold months.

Our farm to school program is still in its beginning stages, so stay tuned for future updates!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Children First Day!

The School Nutrition Association of the Shenandoah Valley (SNASV) is comprised of school nutrition workers from Harrisonburg City and the counties of Rockingham and Shenandoah.

Members recently manned a booth at WHSV's Children First day at Eastern Mennonite University. Kids were treated to facepainting and crisp, sweet Virginia apples. Information regarding school meal programs and healthy eating was available for parents. A fun day was had by all!

Friday, August 28, 2009


Come one, come all to the Harrisonburg Health and Wellness Summit being held tomorrow, Saturday, August 29 from 9:30 - 4:00 at First Presbyterian Church near Court Square.

The day begins with an opening general session, followed by three breakout sessions at locations throughout the city. I'll be there convening a session about our school nutrition program.

For more information, check out

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"One down, 179 to go!"

This is a direct quote from one of our cafeteria managers after an amazingly smooth first day back. There's always some confusion and chaos as students and staff come back through the lunch lines, but overall I'm going to make the statement that it was the least complicated first day of school in quite awhile. Hopefully I'm not cursing upcoming days! :)

I started my day at a middle school cashiering breakfast. Breakfast participation is always a little lower than usual on the first few days of school as students adapt to new schedules, find their homerooms, and reconnect with friends.

As I looked at the lovely assortment of both hot and cold breakfast items that the manager at this school had made available, I thought it important to emphasize the importance of students (not to mention staff) eating breakfast each morning. Did you know that kids who eat breakfast are better able to focus during class and generally have better test performance than those who eat nothing? Adults who eat breakfast are generally thinner than their non-breakfast eating counterparts!

School breakfast is available to all students and staff members every morning in every school. At $0.75 for full paid status students, $0.30 for those students who qualify for reduced price meals, and $1.50 for adults, it's the best morning deal in town. Each morning we have available a minimum of one hot and cold breakfast entree (more at the middle and high schools), fresh fruit or juice, and low fat milk. Adults - sorry, but you'll need to look elsewhere for your java fix!

While we would prefer that students dine with us in the morning, we understand that many students start the day with a healthy breakfast at home. If your house is anything like mine in the morning, you don't have a lot of time for fixing breakfast. Following are a few ideas for getting good nutrition into your child in record time:

  • Make ahead and freeze items like whole grain pancakes, waffles, and muffins. Simply pop them into the microwave for a few seconds. Store bought pancakes and waffles are fine, just look for "whole grain" on the ingredient label.

  • Keep a bowl of hard boiled eggs in your fridge for an easy source of protein.

  • Keep easy to eat fresh fruit in a bowl on the counter for a healthy grab and go addition to breakfast.

  • Pre-wash and bag other fruits such as berries or grapes for eating on the way to school if this is an option.

  • Cold cereal (look for whole grain, low sugar brands) with fruit and low fat milk is a quick and easy staple (and what my children eat almost every morning!).

  • Wraps - they aren't just for lunch anymore. Top a whole grain tortilla with turkey and cheese or PB&J for a great source of protein and whole grain.

Berry Banana Smoothie


  • 1 frozen banana, peeled and cut up
  • 1/4 cup fresh or frozen berries (such as raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries)
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt


  • Throw all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Welcome to a new school year and to the HCPS fresh bytes blog! As a new "blogger", I have debated about what to include in this first post. I have so much I want to share with you about our School Nutrition Program. Ah, where to begin?

Let's start with the basics. HCPS participates in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, and new this year, we will be participating in the After School Snack Program at Harrisonburg High School. So what does this mean? Schools who participate in these USDA programs must offer meals and snacks that meet specific nutritional standards. For example, school lunches must contain at least 1/3 of the RDA for eight essential nutrients and must contain no more than 30% of calories from fat and no more than 10% from saturated fat. Schools also offer free and reduced price meals to students who qualify. In exchange, participating schools receive federal reimbursement for meals and snacks served to students.

Time to dispense with the boring details. Let me tell you about some exciting things that we have cooked up this school year. Each year, we have tried to make one or more changes to the foods we offer to go above and beyond what is expected by USDA. A few examples are eliminating fried foods at our elementary and middle schools, increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables available to students, and offering more whole grain products. Last year, we started an entree salad option at our elementary schools and it was a HUGE hit with students!

This year, our goal is to expand upon our Farm to School program. Over the past two years, we have slowly been making connections with area farmers to bring their local product to our lunch rooms.

I am happy to report that last school year, over 8% of our produce was purchased direct from local growers! Some of the locally grown items on the menu for this fall include lettuce, apples, cucumbers, melons, potatoes, carrots, and ground beef. Check back for updates on the F2S program!

On the technology front, our cafeteria computer system has undergone an upgrade. We now have a "server based" system where students and teachers may use their lunch accounts at any of our schools. No need to worry - student account numbers are the same as last year!

I think that's enough for now. Check back often for information about upcoming events, tips, recipes, and resources concerning all things food and nutrition.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2009-2010 school year!