August 25, 2010

Natural Foodie: Schools' fresh approach
bears fruit (and vegetables)

As kids return to the classrooms, they'll find lots of local produce on the lunch menus – some of it grown in their districts' own gardens.

By Avery Yale Kamila
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Yarmouth's nutrition director Becki Schreiber, with shovel, stands in the school district's garden with her coordinators, from left, Bertha Voss, who heads the high school kitchen, Barbara Pride, who handles the Rowe School kitchen, Linda Armstrong, who coordinates the middle school kitchen, and Susan Stowell, who heads the elementary school kitchen, where the garden is located.

Photos by Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

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Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer Susan Stowell, who is the nutrition coordinator for Yarmouth Elementary School, waters basil in the school garden. The basil soon will be transformed into pesto and used on pizza.

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THE MAJORITY of Maine schools no longer serve peanuts or peanut butter due to student allergies. Instead, they use substitutes such as sunflower seed butter and soy nut butter.

DUE TO THE RELIGIOUS background of many Portland students, the district doesn't serve pork in its elementary and middle schools. The only exception is the high school, which occasionally offers ham Italians with an alternate choice of a cheese Italian.

CAPE ELIZABETH and Yarmouth schools offer vegetarian lunch choices every day.

PORTLAND schools are looking into adding pre-packaged gluten-free meals made by a company in Bangor to their a la carte offerings.

A couple of years ago, Schreiber switched from the free USDA patties to Wolfe's Neck Farm hamburger (now known as Pineland Farms Natural Meats). But when she learned the company's livestock is sent to feedlots before slaughter, she sought out a new supplier.

For this year's Maine Harvest Lunch – an annual local foods event at schools across Maine – Schreiber plans to debut hamburgers from Archer Angus Farm in Chesterville.


"Years ago, school lunch was, 'Heat up the chicken patty,' " Schreiber said. "But before that, it was real food that was subsidized by the community. Now as there's less junk being sold, school nutrition directors are hard-pressed for money. It's more labor-intensive to go back to real food."

With the help of grant funding, Portland schools investigated how much it costs the district to buy from local food producers. The results showed that for some items, such as the zucchini used to add fiber and reduce sodium in the school's meat sauce, the cost is significantly less to buy local. For other items, such as fresh strawberries, the cost is higher.

"The strawberries were quite a bit more expensive, almost double the cost from California, but the quality was substantially better," Adams said.

Because the berries were processed in the district's central kitchen, the staff was able to preserve them with a quarter of the amount of sugar used in the cheaper commodity strawberries.

Averaged out over all the local products the district buys, it costs roughly a penny more per serving to incorporate Maine-grown and Maine-raised food, Adams said.

"If we buy it and process it ourselves, it's cheaper than buying a processed chicken nugget," Esposito said. "I've increased my labor costs, but my food costs have gone down."


Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:


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