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Beyond the Buzzword: How DC Central Kitchen Makes Farm-to-School Work for Everyone

Travertine Garcia
DC Central Kitchen School Foods

For 15 years, DC Central Kitchen has been reimagining school food by providing scratch-cooked, locally sourced breakfasts, lunches, suppers, and healthy snacks at schools throughout the District. As a pioneer of the farm-to-school movement, we have worked to improve our community’s expectations, and standards for school nutrition programs by preparing delicious, kid-friendly recipes with care, procuring locally grown foods for school meals, engaging school gardens, and providing meaningful education related to agriculture, food, and nutrition.

According to the National Farm to School Network, these activities “empower children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities.” While others think the way to improve kids’ attitudes toward school lunch is prioritizing Lunchables over scratch-cooked, hot meals, our program maintains a 94% student satisfaction rating! Our proven approaches to collecting and applying student feedback, getting kids excited about what’s on the menu, and creating opportunities for our culinary graduates to become trusted, respected parts of school communities are key drivers of this impressive level of student buy-in.

Nearly one-third of all the food served in our Healthy School Food Program is grown within about a 300-mile radius of Washington, DC, and our school menus include at least one locally sourced item daily! By sourcing locally grown foods and cooking them from scratch, we can provide the freshest, highest-quality food to nourish student success while supporting local farmers and sustainable practices. Students and families can easily identify locally sourced foods written in green on our menus each month.

Earlier this month, as part of National School Lunch Week, we invited families to enjoy one of our farm-to-table meals in the school cafeteria alongside their students. Over 100 families turned out across five schools to share a seasonal meal of roasted chicken drumsticks, braised collard greens, cinnamon-roasted butternut squash, and fresh apple slices – all sourced from local farms.

DCCK healthy school foods lunch
Pictured is a farm-to-table meal served by DC Central Kitchen on October 13th, during National School Lunch Week.

Farm-to-school programming doesn’t stop at the lunch line! As we’ve shared on this platform before, our student engagement team conducts monthly taste tests where students learn about and try new foods prepared in different ways, and then vote on their favorite recipe to be added to the lunch menu. Many of our schools also participate in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), a federal program intended to introduce students to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables with accompanying nutrition education. For these items, we partner with our friends at Dreaming Out Loud to source seasonally available local products grown by Black and Latino farmers facing barriers to market access, allowing us to use our purchasing power to take on multiple systemic challenges all at once. Finally, our mobile urban garden, the Truck Farm, brings the garden to schools that may not have one of their own. The Truck Farm visits provide students with the opportunity to see how food grows and participate in an interactive cooking lesson preparing a farm-to-table recipe they get to taste before they see it in the cafeteria. 

For more information about DC Central Kitchen’s Healthy School Food program, visit Healthy School Food – DC Central Kitchen.