We’re not exactly children people. It’s not that we’re anti-kids; we were children once, too (duh), and, frankly, it’s debatable as to whether Cori Sue has actually grown up at all. But, being single, busy city gals without nearby cousins, nieces, or nephews, we don’t exactly know what to do with them when they’re around. How do you communicate? How do you hold them? What do you say? Why do they look at you like that?
And so, there was a comical moment a few weeks ago, when we sat inside Becca’s car at 7 a.m. on a rainy Tuesday morning, bracing ourselves to enter CentroNia, an elementary school in Columbia Heights teeming with bright-eyed and bushy-tailed little ones.
“Ready?” asked Becca.
“Hold on,” said Cori Sue. “I need another sip of coffee and a moment to ready myself.”
You see, regardless of our limited familiarity with little people, we firmly believe they deserve access to healthy, fresh food every day. So there we were at CentroNia to see what D.C. Farm to School Network (the Bitches Who Brunch partner charity) is up to.
The D.C. Farm to School Network is part of a national farm-to-school network that aims to connect local farmers with schools so that we can get healthy, local produce into school cafeterias. Farm to school efforts improve child health; reconnect students with where food comes from; provide health, food and environmental education opportunities; and support the local food economy.
Healthy kids, healthy communities, happy people, we dig it.
At CentroNia, the farm-to-school program is led by Beatriz Zuluaga, the school’s director of food and nutrition, and nutritionist Sofia Bustos, along with plenty of help from Andrea Northup, coordinator of the D.C. Farm to School Network. And—get this—they feed 600 children breakfast, lunch, and a snack every day. Straight from the tiny kitchen in the back of the facility. Fresh, healthy food. And nothing out of a vacuum-sealed plastic bag.
In the mornings, the kids get a solid foundation to the day with a well-balanced meal that includes milk, a protein, a wheat product, and a fruit. The breakfast protein typically rotates between a cereal bar, eggs, oatmeal, beans, and potatoes. This particular morning, the children ate refried beans, whole-wheat toast, and plantains. Plus, a banana or orange of their choosing.
At lunch, the kids line up for the salad bar—their favorite being a spinach salad with strawberries, feta, sunflower seeds. The kids can make their own salads, but they tend to love spinach the most. Two times a week, lunch is vegetarian (Cori Sue supports!). Other days, they serve dishes like quinoa and white fish. Absolutely everything is made from scratch, except for the marinara sauce, because Beatriz hasn’t yet perfected her spaghetti sauce recipe.
For an afternoon snack, the children have their fifth serving of fruits and vegetables of the day—usually a healthy snack like hummus and vegetables. In fact, the program is so great, the school received the USDA Gold Distinction—based on the nutrition and exercise requirements set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—an award less than one percent of schools in the country receive.
“We wanted to change the way kids eat,” says Beatriz. “We had a caterer before—and it was unattractive, processed food. Now, everything is from scratch. We get everything we can from our local farmer, Kilmer’s Produce. The fruits and juices are always fresh.”
Indeed, Beatriz and Sofia plan the menus based on what’s locally in season. On this particular Tuesday morning, the apples and sweet potatoes were local. They even have a composting program, and the kids compost their leftovers themselves.
In order to make the program most effective, Beatriz and Sofia also work to educate teachers and families at the school. They often host family nights, providing healthy recipes, nutrition information and cooking tips to families. Plus, they teach parents how to read labels and shop smart with simple steps like choosing carrots and hummus over bags of Cheetos.
The results are clear: The children are eating more food of different varieties, and, as a result, there are significantly less trips to the nurse’s office. Best of all, the kids go home and ask their parents for salad, instead of hot dogs, for dinner.
We’re happy to report the ladies of D.C. Farm to School Network are changing our country’s future for the better—healthy, happy, environmentally conscious, and educated children—one D.C. public school breakfast at a time.
Thanks for letting us have breakfast with you, CentroNia. Until the next D.C. Farm to School visit!