Students at Spokane Valley’s Broadway Elementary School got a surprise when Dan Jackson showed up in their lunch line with fresh heirloom tomatoes and steamed squash.
“Call me farmer Dan,” Jackson told the hungry and slightly skeptical youngsters as they filed by. “Have some fresh tomatoes. Have you ever had squash? Try it.”
Broadway Elementary was among 14 elementary schools in the Central Valley School District that celebrated Taste of Washington Day by offering local produce on the lunch menu.
“We are hoping to create a fun environment where students are willing to try something new,” said Denise Kwate, nutrition services supervisor for Central Valley.
It’s the first year Central Valley schools are partnering with local farms.
Jackson, whose farm is about 3.5 miles from the school, said he has tried for years to sell his produce to local school districts but it’s been difficult.
“There are obstacles. The school nutrition programs aren’t used to dealing directly with us,” Jackson said.
Public school districts have to follow the same bid process when they purchase tomatoes as when they build a new building: They must get at least three quotes. That can complicate the process for farmers who have time-sensitive products on their hands.
“I grow food that’s not meant for shipping,” Jackson said.
Local Inland Northwest Cooperative Foods – LINC Foods – is a new Spokane-based organization that helps farmers connect with schools and universities. LINC has facilitated contacts between local farmers and Gonzaga University, Eastern Washington University and Spokane and Mead school districts.
“We try to break down the barriers between the farmer and the school,” said Joel Williamson, co-owner of LINC Foods. “We help with the bidding process. We help them connect.”
Jackson’s big orange-yellow tomatoes got lots of attention from students, and most of them grabbed a little cup with tomato slices and a cube of squash.
Third-grader Zoya Dyfort, 8, was impressed.
“The tomatoes are really sweet and juicy. I like them,” Zoya said while eating her lunch.
The squash wasn’t as popular, but the pita bread filled with chicken got thumbs up.
What would Zoya like for farmer Dan to bring if he comes back?
“Corn. I love corn. I hope he brings corn,” she said.
Taste of Washington Day is a statewide program, created by Washington School Nutrition Association and the Department of Agriculture. It aims to promote good nutrition in schools and the use of products grown in Washington.
Each of the Central Valley schools that participated in Taste of Washington went through 20 pounds of tomatoes and 20 pounds of squash.
Kwate was very happy the visit from Jackson and lunch worked out.
“Do we want to do this more? Yes, absolutely we do,” Kwate said.