Representatives of Chartwells School Dining Services Inc., the school lunch vendor for Winthrop public schools, have announced that the company is working to increase the availability of locally grown produce in school meals for the coming school year.
By working with local farmers to determine the food items each farm provides and then marketing them accordingly, Chartwells is developing relationships that seek to increase the amount of regionally grown produce used in schools throughout the Northeast.
“Many of our producers already are very good at this, but there is always room for improvement and we are looking for our distributors to follow suit,” explained Glenn Brunetti, Chartwells Regional Chef for the Northeast.
In states like Massachusetts, which are hurt by a shorter growing season, the company is also utilizing a fresh/frozen program that is designed to make locally grown produce available to schools year-round. The program helps retain processing and sales of regional produce in the Northeast and cuts down so-called “food miles,” ensuring that school menus feature local products year round.
Chartwells’ local produce purchases totaled 25% of all produce purchases nationwide in 2011-12. In the Northeast 26% of total produce purchases were from local sources. The company said that they are striving to increase that percentage by expanding local produce sourcing for the 2012-13 school year.
In an effort to do so, Chartwells held a summit that included several Northeast Farm-to-School (FTS) Network stake holders in the spring and have attended multiple Farm to School conferences including the National conference held in Burlington, Vermont in August. These events have helped the company connect with local farmers and FTS advocates, create an awareness of the company’s produce needs and increase produce sourcing from local farms.
“Serving locally grown produce at our schools helps to support our local economy and allows us to serve a variety of healthy foods to students. The community is very supportive of us buying from local farms and our students are aware that the fruits and vegetable they eat come from local farmers. This makes them very happy! The produce is fresh, vivid in color and very eye appealing. Because of that the students want to try new items such as broccoli florets, sweet potatoes or fresh summer squash. Chartwells encourages servings of unlimited fruits and vegetables whenever a child purchases a lunch, this in line with the school lunch program and encourages healthy choices for our children,” said Theresa Minnucci, Chartwells District Manager for Winthrop Public Schools