Top U.S. Department of Agriculture officials came to Novato in September to learn about the district’s success in partnering with various community organizations to bring fresh, local and organic fruits and vegetables to school meals while supporting local farmers. Project Lunch is the culmination of several innovative developments sought by Food & Nutritional Services Director Miguel Villarreal since coming to Novato in 2002. “We’re putting nutrition and wellness in the forefront,” Villarreal stated to the crowd gathered in Novato High School’s cafeteria for the kick-off event on September 9. Whole Foods, Marin Organics, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Teens Turning Green and the Marin Department of Public Health are just a few of the partners that participated in the event. Novato High, the event site sponsor, is leading the movement by launching the district’s first Food Club. Food Clubs are made up of students, food service staff, farmers, chefs, and other school community partners working together to improve school lunches through hands-on learning. The Club will take field trips to farms, farmers markets, and green grocers and will prepare meals and host chef demos.
The progress of NUSD’s Project Lunch could potentially have national implication. Audrey Rowe, USDA Food and Nutrition Service Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs promised to share the successes of Project Lunch with other states to further the national Farm to School campaign.All schools are encouraged to register at the ProjectLunch.org website where schools will also have access to Project Lunch mentors. As Ariana Ricken, a student at San Ramon Elementary School, attested after helping conduct a popular green bean taste testing at school, the project brings “local, organic, fresh vegetables to schools and helps farmers come to us.”