Cooking up change in SB’s School Food System, in the FH Tuttle Middle School Kitchen (left to right): Winton Goodrich, Assistant Superintendent, Joan Foley, Nutritional Services, Mollie Silver, Farm to School Coordinator, and Megan Brancaccio, Common Roots Food Educator. Jennifer Bates cooks in the background.


New Faces Bring New Energy to Food Education

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Thursday March 15, 2012

“We have begun to see a fundamental change in the conversation in this country about how we feed our kids.” Those words were spoken by Michelle Obama at the recent Childhood Obesity Summit in Washington, DC, but the First Lady could also have been describing what’s happening in South Burlington’s schools.

These changes can be partially credited to the District’s hiring Winton Goodrich in August as Assistant Superintendent and, more recently, Mollie Silver as Farm to School Coordinator—both funded by the District budget.  Also on the team are Kristen Miceli, a part-time Farm to School External Liaison, and Megan Brancaccio, Food Educator—who are funded by Common Roots, a nonprofit organization that works in partnership with South Burlington schools.  All four individuals have strong backgrounds in farming, education and sustainable agriculture. And collaboratively, they have big plans for advancing the curriculum and school meals for grades K-12 in the South Burlington School District. 

Leading by Doing

Assistant Superintendent Goodrich is responsible for Nutritional Services and oversees all District operations. Previously the associate director at the Vermont School Board Association and a former public school health and physical education teacher, “Winton Goodrich is a role model for all of us,” says Common Roots chair Carol McQuillen. “His innovative ideas for incorporating the teaching of healthy lifestyle habits both in and outside the classroom are truly a breath of fresh air.”

Goodrich even carries his ideas for a sustainable lifestyle with him on his commutes to work. “I take the bus from Montpelier to Fletcher Allen in Burlington a couple of days each week.  I strap the bike on the front of the bus and then ride from the hospital to the various schools or related meeting sites in the area,” Goodrich said.

On a more fundamental level, the South Burlington School District’s Strategic Plan emphasizes long-term goals for improving nutrition and incorporating physical activity, mindfulness and health in the school’s curriculum. Goodrich is charged with helping create an overall wellness focus for students and staff. His first step was forging a partnership with South Burlington Schools’ Nutritional Services and Common Roots to further advance the food programs, with Mollie Silver as its first hire.

A Passion for Kids and Farming

Silver has been working both with kids and in agriculture most of her life. She grew up spending her summers as a camp counselor and, while attending UVM, cultivated a passion for sustainable agriculture. After graduating in 2010 with a B.S. in Ecological Agriculture, she worked as a farm and food educator with Common Roots, growing vegetables at local farms and organizing farm field trips for students at South Burlington’s F.H. Tuttle Middle School. Silver also helped organize and plant the South Burlington High School garden, Rebel Roots, which successfully yielded 200 pounds of food used in SBHS lunches last fall.

In her new position, Silver spends half of her time working with teachers and incorporating healthy lifestyle habits into curriculum—bringing programs such as “Celebrity Food of the Month” into their lesson plans. The program, piloted last year at Orchard Elementary School and expanded this year to Chamberlin Elementary, highlights a different seasonal, locally available vegetable or grain with in-class tastings and mini lessons with Common Roots educators. The celebrity food is featured on the schools’ lunch menus throughout the month. 

February’s “Celebrity Food” was whole-grain flour; in January was red cabbage, and some 80 percent of the elementary students who tried it, said they liked it (perhaps to their parents’ amazement).  Students taste-tested a variety of coleslaws featuring the colorful crucifer; their favorite was a “Tropical Slaw” that included pineapple, apples, and celery.   Another hit, taste-tested at Orchard Elementary School, was a “Breakfast Blondie,” made with a secret ingredient—puréed white beans.
 
Silver’s remaining time is spent as “kitchen floater prep”—working in different school kitchens throughout the District and with Nutritional Services Director Christine LaPointe to help incorporate more locally-grown food into lunch menus.  In November, each school hosted a “Harvest Meal” of roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, and a side dish of butternut squash grown by Silver and a team of South Burlington students. 

LaPointe has also made a priority of regularly featuring a “Local Meal Day” on lunch menus.  The January “Local Day” featured butternut squash soup, Vermont cheddar bread (made from scratch in District kitchens) and Vermont apple crisp; On March 21st the local offerings include Sloppy Joes with Vermont beef, a “Magic Rootie Mash” of carrots, parsnips and potatoes, and a whole-wheat sugar cookie .   [Recipes for the soup, slaw, and the Breakfast Blondie can be found on the District’s website:  http://farm-to-school.sbsd.schoolfusion.us/modules/cms/pages.phtml?pageid=
50370&sessionid=9da893473a1f1c31bda
24a9b9afb89ff]. LaPointe and her staff are working in a collaborative model with the new partners to support the next steps.

On March 27th, the District’s local food efforts will come into full focus when F. H. Tuttle Middle School hosts a “Rebel Chef” cooking competition. Eight teams will compete to create kid-friendly, cafeteria-worthy dishes that showcase local foods, in an event modeled after popular shows such as “Iron Chef” and “Chopped” (as well as the Vermont Junior Iron Chef competition).   “Interest in the event has been huge,” says Silver. “Students are really excited about cooking and the potential to develop new recipes for the school lunch program.”

Building Community and Classroom Connections

The addition of Kristen Miceli to the team as Farm to School External Liaison is to provide linkages between local farms and bring outside resources to the School District.  Her roots with local farmers already run deep, as she also manages the produce department and oversees artisanal cheeses and dairy items at Williston’s Natural Provisions Market.  She has been a farmer herself, and sold her family’s produce at the Williston Farmers’ market while running her own local fresh market.

As a Common Roots Food Educator, Megan Brancaccio is tasked with collaboratively planning “Celebrity Food of the Month” lessons with the team.  She communicates with principals and teachers to offer lessons in classrooms and support District taste tests in cafeterias.  A UVM intern in the Orchard School’s Farm to School pilot project last year, Brancaccio also communicates in the school news to keep parents informed and share recipes.

The District is currently studying the strengths and areas for growth of our cafeterias to date and exploring models of how Farm to School programs succeed in other Vermont districts.  In December the team visited Chef Paul Morris, who heads the award-winning foodservice department at Harwood Union School in Waterbury, to learn how they use locally grown products to prepare healthy and enticing meals for students and staff.  Some team members also met with pioneering hospital food service director Diane Imrie at Fletcher Allen Health Care to explore how the hospital transformed its food service over the past decade.

Goodrich, Silver, Miceli, and Brancaccio hope to further expand their program reach to every student—and Goodrich confirmed that the first steps are already underway. “The District is working with Vermont FEED [Farm Education Every Day, a farm-to-school partnership program] to conduct a Nutritional Services self-assessment,” he noted, “and further plan how the Farm to School program will be implemented in all five South Burlington schools.” 

Perhaps the best news is that students are eager to learn about “Celebrity Foods” and most children who taste them, like them. That the program has already made an impact was clear at the Harvest Meal last November: As their trays were being loaded with locally grown food, several students were heard to say “I helped pick that squash!” 

Another asked, “How can I grow my own butternut squash?” 

SOURCE: Ally Gravina, UVM Student