USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon
On Friday, I had the opportunity to join a celebration of the 5th anniversary of Riverside Unified School District’s internationally recognized Farmers’ Market Salad Bar Program in Riverside, Cali. The successful program began as a pilot farm to school salad bar program and today provides healthier options on the menus in the Riverside School District.
The salad bar program at the Riverside Unified School District provides a unique opportunity for students to not only enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers but to also grow their own produce. The partnership among schools, community, and local and state government is essential to building healthy dietary behaviors for our nation’s next generation.
I enjoyed meeting Rodney Taylor, school district director of nutrition services, who is often referred to as the “King of Farm to School.” Taylor revolutionized food service in the school district, providing high-quality meals cooked from scratch using locally-sourced ingredients at the middle and high schools. Twenty-nine of the district’s 30 elementary schools offer a daily farmers’ market salad bar. Thirty-three percent of the elementary students choose the salad bar for lunch. Since the program started, lunch participation has increased from 47 to 65 percent.
The Farm to School program at Riverside Unified School District is not just limited to the lunch tray—students also learn from a registered dietician about the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Local farmers also visit and help students understand how and where healthy foods come from.
“We are excited to celebrate this milestone with the entire community,” said Taylor. “Five years ago, we began an incredibly ambitious project to bring fresh produce to as many students as possible. The Farmers’ Market Salad Bar program has allowed us to do just that.”
As part of the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, members from the USDA Farm to School Team will visit Riverside Unified School District. During their visit, the team will work with local farmers, local and state authorities, school districts, and community partners to learn about Riverside’s farm to school efforts, including how the activities first began, the relationship between growers and the school district, what obstacles exist or were faced along the way, and the benefits the activities have had on the school and the community.
USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon chats with Emerson Elementary School’s Green Team students.
Emerson Elementary School Green Team students volunteer their lunch recess to work in the garden (composting, planting, exploring and experimenting) each day with a passion.