Farm, ta­ble meet at . . . school

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROGER PIANTADOSI Rap­pa­han­nock News staff

Okay, you try to get kids ex­cited about veg­eta­bles.

Yes, the nu­tri­tion-, lo­cal food- and menu-re­lated chal­lenges at Rap­pa­han­nock County Pub­lic Schools, like most Amer­i­can schools, are much more com­pli­cated than that – in­volv­ing feed­ing hun­dreds of students and staff on a shoe­string bud­get while meet­ing new and ever more strin­gent and com­plex fed­eral school lunch reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing not only what kids should eat, but which kids should get a price break. And all of that di­rectly im­pacts how much gov­ern­ment fund­ing the school sys­tem gets in re­turn.

Nonethe­less, a few weeks ago the school division’s di­rec­tor of nu­tri­tion ser­vices, Trista Grigsby, found her­self dis­cussing school nu­tri­tion is­sues for the fewer-than-1,000 pub­lic school students of lit­tle Rap­pa­han­nock County with . . . ABC News. (The re­port, ap­par­ently pro­duced for ABC’s evening news and “Good Morn­ing Amer­ica” morn­ing show, had yet to air, as of this Wed­nes­day.)

A cynic might say ABC drove out here be­cause there’s so much green, farm- re­lated, rolling- hills B- roll footage avail­able on the way. But

Grigsby, who helped start up the schools’ much-praised Farm-to-Ta­ble pro­gram be­fore tak­ing on “this $500,000 busi­ness, with 10 em­ploy­ees, that has to feed a thou­sand peo­ple a day and meet all the fed­eral school lunch pro­gram guide­lines,” has al­ways been pas­sion­ate about find­ing ways to use that re­al­ity – that peo­ple grow stuff in Rap­pa­han­nock – to achieve re­sults.

The sought- af­ter re­sults be­ing that kids get more ex­cited about veg­eta­bles, and other farm prod­ucts, if they get to know how they’re grown, har­vested, shipped and pre­pared for the ta­ble. Not to men­tion how each re­lates to the phys­i­cal health of an in­di­vid­ual, or the eco­nomic and spir­i­tual health of a community.

But whether Diane Sawyer speaks the words “Rap­pa­han­nock County” on-air later this week or later this fall, your op­por­tu­nity to learn more about what sort of things have been lately oc­cu­py­ing Grigsby and Jen Rat­ti­gan (her suc­ces­sor in the more knee-mud­dy­ing job of co­or­di­nat­ing the Head­wa­ters Foun­da­tion-funded Farm- to- Ta­ble pro­gram), and their students, can come as early as this Satur­day.

As part of the an­nual Rap­pa­han­nock County Farm Tour, both the high school and el­e­men­tary school will be host­ing stu­dent- led tours, plant sales and demon­stra­tions. Be there. (There’s more about the tour else­where on this page and in the box on page 1.)

“Oh, the kids love giv­ing the tours,” Grigsby laughs, sit­ting with Rat­ti­gan at a pic­nic ta­ble amid the trees and thick gar­den beds of the el­e­men­tary school’s court­yard gar­den ( which, im­pres­sive as it is, pales next to the high school’s brim­ming raised beds and hoop­house op­er­a­tion, and F2T’s new hill­side plot made avail­able to the schools ear­lier this year by Mati Miller, the innkeeper across the high­way at the Blue Rock Inn).

“For the tours, all we had to say to the students was, ‘How would you like to take some grown-ups around and tell them all about stuff they don’t know any­thing about?’, and that was it,” Grigsby said, she and Rat­ti­gan smil­ing and nod­ding.

“Trista car­ries on the spirit of get­ting lo­cal foods and stu­dent- grown foods into the school cafe­te­rias,” Rat­ti­gan says, “which makes my job eas­ier than it maybe was when she was do­ing it.” Grigsby, for her part, says the nu­tri­tion-ser­vices post has “given me new­found re­spect for all who have done it be­fore me, and for the en­tire cafe­te­ria staff. It is an amaz­ingly dif­fi­cult job.”

Rat­ti­gan has been en­cour­ag­ing other students who are not di­rectly in­volved in the Farm-to-Ta­ble pro­gram’s hor­ti­cul­ture and re­lated of­fer­ings to be in­volved in the gar­dens: The art classes are fin­ish­ing a mu­ral this fall on the side of the hoop­house. Latin-lan­guage students came out and stud­ied the Latin names of the species grow­ing in the beds. Rich Ho­gan’s in­dus­trial-arts class students hope this year to fur­ther en­hance the lovely gar­den shed and wash-house they started build­ing two years ago at the high school (with wood do­nated to the schools by Chris Bird).

A good per­cent­age of the food raised at the school is now served at both schools’ cafe­te­rias, Rat­ti­gan says. Grigsby men­tions the Food for Thought Fund de­vel­oped by Rachel Bynum and Eric Plaksin of Sper­ryville’s Water­penny Farm, who worked with Agri­cul­tural Ex­ten­sion Ser­vice agent Ken­ner Love to de­velop a fund that al­lows the school division to bring more lo­cal prod­ucts onto cafe­te­ria tables by help­ing pay the dif­fer­ence be­tween lo­cal and non-lo­cal prices.

“Do­na­tions are gladly ac­cepted to help us pull off Lo­cal Foods Week in Novem­ber this year,” Grigsby adds, re­fer­ring to the an­nual feat of serv­ing both students and mem­bers of the pub­lic as much locally pro­duced farm out­put as pos­si­ble.

Lo­cal food pur­chases last year to­taled $1,796 – a small frac­tion of over­all food pur­chase costs – but progress is be­ing made, Grigsby says. “In the case of ap­ples, they are ac­tu­ally more af­ford­able than ap­ples pur­chased from a whole­saler, so it’s a win-win to use lo­cal ap­ples. Wil­liams Or­chard was the only or­chard to sub­mit a lo­cal bid for ap­ples this year, and we’re pleased to work with them.”

The Farm- to- Ta­ble pro­gram pro­duced 104 pounds of pro­duce in its sec­ond year (2005), with most of it go­ing to students, the school cafe­te­rias and the community at large, Grigsby says.

In 2011, that num­ber had risen to 783 pounds, with about half go­ing to the school cafe­te­rias and the other half split be­tween the schools’ culi­nar­yarts classes and the Rap­pa­han­nock Food Pantry.

“This fig­ure doesn’t even in­clude the 75 pounds of but­ter­nut squash Farm-to-Ta­ble hor­ti­cul­ture students are grow­ing over at the Blue Rock for the cafe­te­ria as we speak,” Grigsby wrote in a fol­low-up email. “If we were to put a price tag of a mod­est $4 per pound on these prod­ucts, that’s $9,882 worth of pro­duce grown us­ing or­ganic meth­ods that has come into the schools and to the peo­ple in the community who need it.”

On the other hand, Grigsby says, her hopes to in­te­grate stu­dent and locally grown foods into students’ meals must, in the end, be tem­pered by cur­rent mar­ket re­al­ity.

“Yes, so we still buy lots of chicken nuggets,” she says. “If I don’t have chicken nuggets on the menu? Full- scale re­bel­lion.”

Photo by Jan Clat­ter­buck/rap­pa­han­nock News (in­set by Roger Piantadosi/rap­pa­han­nock News)

Rap­pa­han­nock County Pub­lic Schools nu­tri­tion ser­vices direc­tor Trista Grigsby is in­ter­viewed by an ABC News crew two weeks ago.

Pho­tos by Roger Piantadosi/rap­pa­han­nock News

Farm-to-Ta­ble co­or­di­na­tor Jen Rat­ti­gan shows off one of nu­mer­ous bird­house squash high school stu­dents grew this year, and un­cov­ers a gi­ant gin­ger root grow­ing in the F2T hoop­house.

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