Real Added Value: The Marin Organic School Lunch and Gleaning Program Continues to bring People and Produce Together
Talk about adding value, the Marin Organic School Lunch and Gleaning Program not only gets nutrition-packed fresh produce into local schools, but also adds a social and cultural value as well. So what does that mean?
It means that a whole lot of love goes into this stream of fresh organic veggies grown in our Marin farm fields, from the gleaners to the first-graders. Start with the farms; all are members of Marin Organic. It is common practice to leave copious quantities of blemished and market-reject veggies in the field to be tilled-in. Instead, farmers are engaging Marin schools by donating unused product to the program, which is entirely voluntary. “Many of our farmers are well-suited for this activity, since it fits right into their existing farm philosophies,” says Kerry McGrath, Member Communications Manager. “Public awareness and education play a big part in our grower-members view.”
What about the gleaners? Hundreds of regular folks wanting to help out have been able to visit these exquisite family farms and spend a day in the field. Their appreciation is amply expressed by a young Dominican University student:
“The first level of change and coming together I see is through ‘the rediscovery of the pleasure of eating good food.’ Through gleaning I have seen this first hand: during National Gleaning Day it was great to see people (who are not my everyday peers) in the fields becoming connected to the land and their food. In observing the kids from County Community School, I saw at first hesitation, but that hesitation soon subsided and changed into enjoyment. I saw them enjoy picking the tomatoes and taking pride in what they picked, showing off just how much they had picked. They were happy to take their fresh-picked tomatoes back to County Community School to share.”
These volunteers get a dose of on-the-farm life, and a real-life experience that helps them to make wiser consumer choices. Their delicious gleanings enable all schools to choose the best ingredients possible while staying within limited school budgets. Each week schools purchase local organic foods for delivery, which are supplemented with the week’s donated gleaned foods, offsetting their costs and inviting change. When the Marin Organic truck arrives at a local school with boxes of donated fresh produce, food service workers get to find creative ways to utilize the often random seasonal assortments of very fresh produce. Chester Densmore, Organic School Lunch and Gleaning Program Associate, says “They really do get excited about the produce we bring in. They find real creative ways to work with the seasonal nature of our deliveries, which are never the same twice in a row!”
So a lot of value is added to the produce that makes its way through the Marin Organic program to the school kids’ plates. The program brings more than 10,000 kids each week closer to fresh, local, organic food, while educating a few hundred Marin-ites as to the nature of producing food, and nourishing the lucky school kids in many ways. As Chester relates, “The San Marin High School kids joined the Marin Organic glean team regularly, and were having a great time. One Monday they all went to County Line Harvest and gleaned cherry tomatoes. The next day they spotted their tomatoes in the lunch line. They proceeded to eat as many as they could, the whole time bragging to their friends that they were responsible for bringing the tomatoes in!”
More than half of Marin schools over the past six years have gradually begun to buy directly through the farmers or through Marin Organic, having been enticed with product from the gleaning program. For more information about Marin Organic’s School Lunch and Gleaning Program, contact Program Manager Scott Davidson at email@example.com.