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Fresh produce from local farms featured at K.G. school cafeterias

BY LINDLEY ESTES

Chef Larry Clark usually cooks for privately catered events or as a personal chef, but at a recent lunch his diners were the 1,300 students at King George High School.

Clark cooked local vegetables donated by C&T Produce in a teriyaki stir-fry for the school’s first farm-to-school lunch week.

The farm-to-school program is a state initiative to increase the amount of fresh, nutritious Virginia-grown products offered in schools, and to promote opportunities for schools and local farmers to work together.

New federal nutrition guidelines for school meals went into effect this year, requiring more fruits and vegetables and lower fat and sodium content in food. Programs like farm-to-school encourage plant-based eating.

King George offered farm-to-school lunches at each of its public schools. Student John Swinehart, 15, said he liked the vegetables.  “I like to eat vegetables as much as I can,” he said. “Especially corn and broccoli. It’s nice that it’s at school.”

Cafeteria manager Anita Davis said she hopes the students are enlightened about farmers markets and fresh vegetables through the program. She also hopes to partner with the King George Farmers Market in the future to stock the school’s salad bar with local vegetables. Currently, only the cherry tomatoes are local.

She said that children came in to lunch throughout the week saying they didn’t like vegetables and left with a different attitude.

The manager of the King George Farmers Market, Delaura Padovan, said they served about 1,900 students at the other schools in King George.

“We are so excited about bringing local food into the schools,” she said.

Steven Hickman, who runs Biota Farm in King George and grows vegetables such as mushrooms and edamame (young soybeans), helped give out food at the schools. For the elementary school students, he brought his violin to play for them while they ate.

Hickman described himself as a locavore, and said he hopes the farm-to-school program will encourage children to eat local produce.

“We, as human beings, need to eat what’s grown locally,” he said. “There’s no benefit to eating something that’s grown across the world in China or Japan. It’s people that need to travel, not food.”

The farmers market also brought dessert, a sweet-potato pound cake, to the high school and gave out the recipe to students. Blake Strader, a 17-year-old senior, asked Clark for advice on how to become a chef.

“I want to be a chef and this is really inspiring,” he said. “I asked about how he got started. I think it’s creative and real neat for him and the farmers market to interact with the school.”

Clark recommended that Blake consider the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, where Clark studied French cooking.  Before starting his catering company, An Affair to Remember, Clark worked a restaurants in King George, at the Fredericksburg Hospitality House and at the University of Mary Washington.  Clark also gave students suggestions on how to make dishes such as the pound cake healthier.

Clark is diabetic and was recently diagnosed with congestive heart failure. He said he feels his mission is to promote healthy eating.

“I’ve got three kids,” he said. “I’m only 43 and I need to be there for them.”

Clark said he hopes to come back next year and incorporate more fresh herbs into the dishes.

“I plan on doing it as long as they let me,” he said.

Sarah O’Connor, 16 and a junior, said the food reminds her of home. Her mother grows and cooks organic produce.

“It’s how I’ve lived the past four years,” she said. “I asked [Clark] for the recipe.”

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976

lestes@freelancestar.com

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