An initiative to bring more locally grown produce into cafeterias in the Rocky River City School District is supporting Northeast Ohio farms while introducing students to a variety of options.
Nutrition Services Specialist and Registered Dietitian Tina Wasserbauer began the farm-to-school initiative in Rocky River Schools a few years ago when she bought a couple of VitaMix machines. She called around to local farms for fruit that was processed by her staff for use in smoothies.
During that search she found Quarry Hill Orchards, a Berlin Heights orchard that delivered apples to RRCS – one of the first schools to work with the orchard. Over time, the orchard began adding other locally grown produce to its shipments, including tomatoes and peppers.
Due to this success, the district began looking to expand its fresh fruit and vegetable offerings even further. Enter Farm Fare, an organization that coordinates and organizes independent food warehouses – also called food hubs – on a regional scale to deliver more local food. RRCS is part of the Oberlin Food Hub, which uses Farm Fare to deliver its produce.
Wasserbauer and her staff can choose from a list of seasonal options. Rocky River Middle School and High School students have access to produce picked 12 hours prior to delivery. Items on the menu include apples, Bartlett pears, broccoli, tomatoes, lettuces, beets, bok choy, eggplant, kale, mushrooms, onions, herbs, peppers and potatoes.
And much of the selection is certified organic.
“As much as possible we try to buy organic,” Wasserbauer said. “It’s a cost we’re willing to absorb due to the benefits of eating organic.”
She said the taste, quality and texture of fresh, clean produce is attracting a following among students.
“We’re adding different colored lettuces and potatoes,” Wasserbauer said, adding that the Nutrition Services Department uses locally grown produce in its in-house catering service for meeting, events, luncheons and breakfasts.
“It’s a way to support our local farms and growers,” Wasserbauer said, adding that her goal is to see 50 percent of the school’s produce come from local growers. She’s also looking at a farmer’s market for staff and potentially the community. “We are so excited about this opportunity with Farm Fare. There are a million directions to go, and we’re just getting started.”