A.A. County students get local flavor in school lunches

Associate Editor

LOTHIAN, Md. (March 21, 2017) — It was pizza day at Lothian Elementary School on Friday, March 10.
If children had desk calendars, pizza day would be circled in thick red ink and highlighted with gold star stickers.
They’d count down to it like astronauts awaiting a shuttle launch (if they don’t already).
It’s one of the most important days on the elementary school calendar.
But as students were served slab after slab of pizza, they were also given a small sampler cup filled with leaves of bibb lettuce.
Before lunch, they watched a video produced by Anne Arundel County Public Schools that profiled the lettuce grower: Baywater Greens in Salisbury, Md.
“We’re a local farm that grows hydroponic produce and field produce all year long,” said Tim Fields, manager at Baywater, to the camera as he stood inside a lush greenhouse. “We work with Anne Arundel County Public Schools to offer you a taste of the rainbow.”
Two students in the video went on to describe the growing process and the product’s slightly sweet, buttery flavor.
Each student who bought lunch was given a lettuce sample in addition to the standard (and generous) helping of fruits and vegetables, much of it locally grown.
Tasting of the Rainbow is the first Friday of every month and was created a decade ago to expose students to new kinds of produce, all of it from local or regional farms.
The school system ordered nearly 1,000 heads of lettuce at a cost of about $1,500 from Baywater Greens, a frequent local supplier to the county, said Jodi Risse, the system’s food and nutrition services supervisor.
“We want to highlight the farm,” she said. “We want to highlight the food and where the food comes from. I think some students aren’t aware that there are farms (here) and there are farmers. … It’s also a benefit to the farm, and we keep the dollars right here locally.”
It’s part of the county’s growing commitment to local farm products.
A printout of recent food purchases shows hundreds of cases of local food, including apples, sweet corn, seedless watermelon, butternut squash and sweet potatoes from farms such as Colora Orchards, Shlagel Farms in Charles County and Miller Farms in Prince George’s County.
“They’re a very progressive school system, and they’ve got a great staff, and I think that’s led them to be more progressive in school food,” Fields said in an interview. “I wish more schools were like them.”
When the school system wants to buy from Baywater, it notifies the farm in advance.
Bibb lettuce, for instance, speeds from plant to harvest in six to eight weeks, and it’s accelerated when it’s grown hydroponically.
“They’ve gotten better about that, making sure they give farmers time to prepare,” Fields said.
The program exposes students to unique, local foods they might not receive at home, said Eileen Souders, a specialist in the school system’s food and nutrition services department. It’s also unique among school systems, she said.
“We have stories of kids from other school systems — not to put down other school systems — but they see what we have and they’re stunned,” Souders said.
Since many of its products are grown in a greenhouse environment, Baywater Greens was uniquely positioned to supply the system in the middle of winter, she said. Bibb lettuce also satisfied the program’s primary goal.
“It’s all part of the learning experience of kids,” Souders said. “I think when they actually taste something, it’s quite an experience.”