It’s becoming easier for students in the California Area School District to know from where their food comes.
Through the district’s participation in a farm-to-table program, new for the 2018-19 school year, students are receiving regionally sourced food in the cafeteria that meets or exceeds school nutrition standards and educational activities in the classroom that emphasize nutrition and local agriculture.
“Farm-to-table is bringing in fresh food, fresh produce to the kids,” said Matthew Triffanoff, district food service director.
The district last summer partnered with the Republic Food Enterprise Center, a Redstone Township nonprofit operated through the Fayette County Community Action Agency designed to meet the region’s need for fresh, locally sourced food.
The district joined the center’s Republic Farm to School Program, which helps school districts provide fresh, local menu choices by connecting schools with local farms and food producers.
One of the goals of the program, which is active in other area school districts, is to strengthen students’ knowledge about agriculture, food, nutrition and the environment by opening the lines of communication and introducing food-related curriculum development to the classrooms.
The Republic Farm to School Program incorporates experimental learning opportunities in schools by developing school gardens, student farm tours, classroom presentations, chefs in the classroom and culinary instruction.
California joins Albert Gallatin, Blairsville-Saltsburg, Brownsville and Laurel Highlands as partners in the program.
Through the program, which is supported by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service, California is provided resources to introduce students to local, fresh foods and to provide nutrition education in the classroom.
Triffanoff said the district wants to make students excited about the cafeteria program while providing well-balanced, nutritious and enjoyable meals. A farm-to-table program, he said, will give students an understanding of local agriculture and farming.
So far this school year, the district has worked with multiple local farms through the Republic Farm to School Program.
Once a week, at either its high school or elementary-middle school, the district provides an omelet bar during breakfast using locally-sourced eggs. It has supplemented lunches with local produce like miniature chocolate bell peppers, green beans with roasted red peppers, and black cherry tomatoes.
The district sources pastured eggs for the omelet bar from Redrange Farm of New Salem, of which the proprietors are set to visit primary students later this school year for a lesson on farming and livestock. Another agriculture lesson featuring industry professionals, possibly on dairy cows, will be scheduled for secondary students, said Triffanoff.
Students may have noticed a new face behind the cafeteria serving counters this school year.
Supplementing the program, Triffanoff steps away from his desk and into the kitchen to help cafeteria staff prepare and serve meals made with foods sourced from area producers.
His presence in the district’s two cafeterias, coupled with the new farm-fresh approach, is an attempt to get students excited about local food and agriculture, Triffanoff said.
“We all know the kids have their favorites,” Triffanoff said, rattling off a list of cafeteria staples including popcorn chicken, pizza and chicken nuggets.
“We’re trying to teach the kids about healthier eating and a healthier lifestyle but also the cooking behind it, because I think that’s what gets the kids’ attention,” said Triffanoff, a trained chef who worked in various restaurant and hotel kitchens before transitioning to education food service.
For Triffanoff, it’s his first time on the serving line since joining the district five years ago. He hopes his presence alongside his 10 staffers making made-to-order omelets one morning each week and serving up special chef-prepped lunches like chicken pasta alfredo on a monthly basis will get students curious about their food and where it comes from.
Seeing the food service director making and serving food, he said, “goes hand-in-hand with getting kids excited. It makes it fun. We wanted to make it fun for the kids again.”