Del Norte students will get a taste of local ground beef, cheese and veggies in their school lunches this week.
Cafeteria employees will offer taco bowls for high-schoolers and a taco bar for elementary school kids Thursday. The entrees will feature ground beef from Oat Hill Farms, cheese from the Rumiano Cheese Company and sour cream from Humboldt Creamery.
Deborah Kravitz, nutrition services director for Del Norte County Unified School District, said she hopes to purchase some vegetables from Ocean Air Farms to add to the entrees.
"It may be something as simple as green onions," she said, adding there may be some shredded cabbage, carrots and cilantro on the menu. "It's really focusing on the two biggies, the beef and the cheese, which are two important protein foods that we use in our school nutrition program."
Del Norte is participating in a statewide campaign to get students to eat foods grown in California. The California Thursday Network includes 58 other public school districts covering roughly 2,878 schools. More than 1.5 million students will be offered a California Thursday meal this week, Kravitz said.
California Thursday started as a pilot program with 15 school districts in October 2014 and expanded to 42 districts by April 2015. According to economists, every $1 spent on local food fosters $2.56 in local economic activity.
This is the second year that Del Norte has worked with the Center for Ecoliteracy to bring local foods to its students. The district offers a California Thursday meal every month. At the high school level the meals might be enchiladas or beef stroganoff. At the K-8 level it's almost always tacos.
"They love them," Kravitz said of the elementary school kids. "They are a huge mess, but everybody's forgiven for that."
In the days leading up to California Thursday, the district's Nutritional Services Department distributes farmer profiles for teachers to use in their classroom. This includes profiles about Oat Hill Farms, which is part of the Palmer Westbrook Ranch, and Rumiano Cheese. Kravitz pointed out that Humboldt Creamery products come from local dairymen.
Kravitz said her ultimate goal is to offer locally-grown and produced foods every week, but next year she'll try to do a California Thursday twice a month.
"It creates a series of wins," she said. "It helps students be better learners, local purchases help the economy, less packaging and food miles helps the environment and then students have a better understanding of where their food comes from."
Another goal is to start a boat to school program that would feature locally caught fish. Kravitz said the idea is in its infancy, but she's working with a fishmonger in Coos Bay.
For more information about the California Thursdays program or to see family-sized versions of some of the California Thursdays recipes, visit www.californiathursdays.org.