by Michelle Ajamian

When Lynne Genter was hired to coordinate Farm to School purchases and education at Federal Hocking Schools, she used the cafeteria as her classroom, where she introduced students to local foods and offered some fun facts about the impact buying local has on our community. For example, the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce reports that for every $100 spent in local businesses, $68 stays in the community.

Funded by a grant from the USDA Food Nutrition Services from July 2020 through September 2022, the grant enabled the district to dig in and work on advancing local foods in its three rural schools.

“Talking with kids about what they were eating—their favorite foods at home and in school–helped me understand where local farmers, chefs and bakers could fit in,” said Genter.

Because a favorite lunch among students is pizza, Federal Hocking cooks teamed up with Jackie O’s Bakeshop to make a custom pizza crust from spent grains from the brewing process. The pizza also featured sauce from local tomatoes and pepperoni from a Columbus based purveyor.

Earlier in the year, students were served a burrito lunch featuring Shagbark Seed & Mill’s Ohio grown organic black beans.

In March the USDA announced that the Whole Grain Rich requirement for school food will mandate at least 40% whole grain is served for the 2022/23 school year. While this means better nutrition in school food, the major obstacle to providing locally sourced staple products remains price point and sourcing.

“It’s hard to compete with Gordon Food Service (GFS), the single source distributor school districts use,” said Dillon Green at Shagbark Seed & Mill. “The exception to this is Athens City Schools because we are able to offer direct delivery in Athens City,” he said.

Green explained that Shagbark offers rock bottom prices to the schools and local food pantries. They now deliver 40-50 cases of their original whole grain corn tortilla chips to the Athens City school district every month and hope to find a solution to get beans and chips to Federal Hocking as well.

Genter offered that more local staples into school food could be increased by using the monthly teacher professional development days to work with cooks to sample and try recipes. Those recipes could be frozen for future lunches using the blast freezer the grant provided.

“If we could, we would want to keep serving burritos and pizza with local grain and beans,” Genter said. I know the kids really enjoyed those menu items and the fact that eating local helps our local economy.”