May 2012

Way back in early April, when locally grown butternut squash was still available as a storage crop in Massachusetts, the Farm to School Team Made a visit to the Tynan School in South Boston to talk with students about the homemade soup on their plates.

The soup featured butternut squash grown in Hadley, MA by farmer Joe Czjakowski, along with black beans, green beans, and corn in a cumin-spiked chicken broth.  Packed with veggies and flavor, the Farm to School Initiative’s Southwest Vegetable Soup has been a hit with students across the district.  The soup has been featured as part of Boston Public Schools’ Local Lunch Thursdays, a program which puts local vegetables on the lunch menu at every cafeteria, every Thursday!  This month, we’ll be featuring garlic-parsley roasted spring dug parsnips as well as local carrots (another storage crop) with ranch dressing.

FNS Field Supervisor, Abhijit Potdar, & FNS Farm to School Coordinator, Kim Szeto talk squash.

Needless to say, we had a blast at the Tynan School.  Students got a chance to see, touch, and learn about butternut squash.  Kids, and staff (pictured above), used the butternut squash halves to “call the farmer” and thank him for growing such delicious veggies for lunch!

Thanks to everyone at the Tynan, especially Cafeteria Manager Mayra Carrasquillo, for making Local Lunch Thursdays a success.


School Food FOCUS is a national collaborative that leverages the knowledge and procurement power of large school districts to make school meals nationwide more healthful, regionally sourced, and sustainably produced.  Funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and a growing number of sponsors, individuals, and private funders, FOCUS aims to transform food systems to support students’ academic achievement and lifelong health, while directly benefiting farmers, regional economies, and the environment.  Boston Public Schools has been a participating district since School Food FOCUS was founded.

The national gathering, held in Chicago May 3rd to 5th, brought together school food service professionals, community partners already working with districts, and government officials from the USDA and CDC.  The gathering is an opportunity for casual conversations and more formal networking with peers working in districts across the country as well as government officials.  This year, three members of the BPS Food & Nutrition Services department – Michael Peck, Director of FNS; Kim Szeto, Farm to School Coordinator; and Alexandra Emmott, Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program Manager – attended.

A Few Highlights from the Conference:

  • A tour of Chicago Public Schools with a focus on their new procurement process for Miller Antibiotic Free Chicken.
  • Keynote address by Dan Carmody, President of Detroit Eastern Market.  Dan’s background is in urban planning and his address explored the links between economics, the environment, and equity.
  • School Food Showcase featuring vetted, affordable, healthy products for schools.  Asian food Solutions and Jennie-O, two vendors already used by BPS, were featured.
  • Meeting Chicago Public Schools students who won the Cooking Up Change competition with their recipes oven fried chicken, sweet potato & bean salad, and sautéed cabbage and collard greens.  (Delicious! & we have the recipes.)
  • Meeting Debra Kane, National Director for the USDA Farm to School Program, formerly a community partner for Portland Public Schools working at Eco Trust in Oregon.  Debra wrote the RFP for the new federally funded Farm to School grants for which BPS will be applying this spring.
  • And, last but not least, this amazing school food anthem, written and performed by Melissa Honeywood, new Director of FNS for Cambridge Public Schools.  Check it out here:

Food and Nutrition Services is fortunate to have a slew of fantastic cafeteria managers, all of whom work tirelessly to serve fresh meals to 57,000 students across the district.  Today, I am turning the spotlight on one manager in particular, Jennie Hall, who leads a team of 8 employees at East Boston High School.

Jennie and her team serve between 1200 and 1300 lunches every day!  (Anyone who has ever made dinner for a crowd can appreciate the intense magnitude of this task.)  East Boston High is one of Boston Public Schools’ Provision 2  meal programs, meaning all students, regardless of their families’ income level, eat for free. 

Jennie has worked for Boston Public Schools Department of Food & Nutrition Services for 18 years, and is an East Boston native.  When she’s not serving up lunch, managing her staff, fielding emails and phone calls, and placing orders at East Boston High School, Jennie runs outside and works out at the local gym.  Talk about energy, right?

On a recent visit to EBH for lunch, Jennie, with assistance from Chef Kirk Conrad of the Project Bread Chefs in Schools Program, served up loaded chicken tacos, a homemade vegetable and garbanzo bean soup, whole wheat warps, and a BBQ chicken and baked potato dinner.  Students could also opt for the salad bar, with a variety of fresh vegetables, beans, protein, and cheese options.

After 18 years, what’s Jennie’s favorite item of the school lunch menu?  Straight up Italian comfort food: stuffed pasta shells with marinara sauce.

Thanks to Jennie & her team at EBH for all their hard work day in and day out.