Category Archives: Metro West

A Day, a Week, and a Month of Eating Local!

Harvest Week banner.inddOctober is a month for great eating and celebrating local food!  Here in Massachusetts the harvest is at its autumn peak with colorful vegetables and orchard fruits plentiful at markets and on our tables.  Not only is Food Day a major October highlight, but the Massachusetts Farm to School Project also coordinates Harvest for Students Week.  Now in its 7th year, this year’s Harvest Week is planned for September 30 – October 4.  It’s a whole week to showcase local foods in our schools and this year it kicks off October’s National Farm to School MonthA whole month to celebrate eating local?  You bet!

In fact, Mass. Farm to School Project works all year to support our farmers by facilitating sustainable purchasing relationships with institutional food services, ensuring that what they grow finds its way to reliable markets. K-12 schools and colleges are a big piece of that picture.  When local food is served in school meals and snacks, our farms remain viable and our children have access to fresh, healthy, locally grown fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains, and dairy every day.

It’s exciting to celebrate with our colleagues and partners in the regional food system.  There’s a lot to be proud of.  Did you know that in our last survey of school districts across Massachusetts 231 of our 395 public school districts (not including charters) self-reported that they preferentially purchased local foods?  In addition, more than 89 colleges and private schools did too.  Whether they are purchasing directly from a farmer, or through a local distributor, they are supporting the agriculture of our state and ensuring that many thousands of students have nutritious, tasty school meals, regardless of their family income or access to fresh, local food outside of school.

F2S4Mass. Harvest for Students Week is an opportunity for school food service staff to highlight their efforts to serve local foods with a special event or activity in the cafeteria.  Often schools create an all-local lunch, or feature special menu items while area farmers and local legislators are invited to eat with students in the cafeteria.  Some schools plan events with the school garden and classrooms too.  These have included garden parties, field trips to local farms and farmers markets, and fruit and vegetable art projects.  Our website is a great source of activity ideas, recipes, and resource materials for Harvest Week.  We invite you to share your plans for Harvest Week celebrations in your school!

Whether you choose to celebrate the bounty of locally grown foods for one day, one week, one month, or a whole year, it’s a good thing.  Together we are making a difference and supporting the next generation of healthy farms and healthy students.

Worcester KI - City View to CHP

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Success Starts with School Breakfast

Food Day is a great opportunity to celebrate the most important meal of the day: Breakfast! This is especially important to remember during the back to school season. A recent report by GENYOUth Foundation called The Wellness Impact, showed more evidence than ever supporting the connection between nutrition, physical activity and academic achievement.

Students from The Mather School in Boston fuel up with a nutrient-rich breakfast at school.

Students from The Mather School in Boston fuel up with a nutrient-rich breakfast at school.

But the reality is that many Massachusetts children don’t eat breakfast and this puts them at a huge disadvantage. In fact, our state ranks a dismal 42nd in the nation when you compare the number of students who eat school breakfast to those who eat free or reduced priced lunch.

There are many reasons that school breakfast is poorly attended- some kids would rather socialize than go to the cafeteria, others are on buses that arrive late, and in some communities, school breakfast may not even be offered. But, the good news is that there are strategies and programs out there to help make school breakfast more accessible and better utilized.

The Massachusetts School Breakfast Challenge is one of those programs. We’re asking school districts in MA to increase participation in School Breakfast by 35% by December of 2014. New England dairy farmers are proud supporters of this initiative and to date have contributed more than $120,000 in grants to help cover start-up costs associated with breakfast, such as equipment.

This year, the USDA’s revised nutrition standards for school breakfast programs go into effect. The new standards require school breakfast to be rich in fruits, whole-grains, low-fat dairy and even vegetables- so parents can feel good about sending their children to school breakfast, knowing they will be getting a nutritious meal.

School Breakfast

School Breakfast

In order for time in the classroom to be well-spent and productive, children need to be focused: hungry kids can’t learn. Celebrate Food Day 2013 in your school by fueling up with a healthy morning meal. For ideas on how to promote school breakfast, visit www.NewEnglandDairyCouncil.org.

View From the Bottom: Observations of a Local Food Economy.

I’m not an economist, just a English Major turned farmers market manager, so forgive me for my amateurism when talking about numbers.

Shopping at big box stores and national chains in the world today seems inescapable, especially when faced with their cheap prices for goods and billions of dollars of advertising cajoling you into your car at every turn, it’s good for your wallet right? Maybe not so much. There are strong economic reasons to spend your money not in a one-stop fashion, but in a slower, walkable environment, where streets, not aisles provide the pathways to building a strong capitalist society. A slow economy is about concentrating dollars in an area in which you live instead of extracting it.  By now everyone who is insane about shopping local as I am should be aware of the much referenced statistic  of %168, that is, that of every dollar spent locally, 68 cents is multiplied amongst the economy, instead of 43 cents of the dollar spent at a national chain, stretching the spending power of that dollar.

Though I could expound on shopping local’s statistical benefits and I will, it’s important to remember that dollars are our societal representations of value and that we spend them on things we value, so that by tracking dollars spent, we can create a picture of what a society values.

The culture of shopping at chain stores and spending our money outside of our communities is of the same mismanaged culture that has been building the suburbs for the past sixty years, a culture built on debt and foreign oil and is therefore unsustainable, as we saw recently in the subprime mortgage crisis, and incredibly harmful to our communities, as we see not only in the gutting of our cities (Detroit) but in the impersonality of many of our subdivisions. This is not the way it has to be. I believe that there is such a thing as a responsible, sustainable, and dare I say, even lovely form of consumerism.

I run a medium sized (nationally speaking) farmers market in a neighborhood of Boston that is a great example of how such a market can grow in parallel with a community and engage it in a mutual support system of economic revitalization.

The Roslindale Farmers Market was started almost thirty years ago in a commuter rail parking lot. It had no budget and one farmer that had to be heavily recruited by then City Councilor now Mayor Menino to attend. That farmer drove to the Roslindale in a station wagon piled high with produce strapped to the roof. That original farmer is still there, now with a box truck, five tents, and four staff. The market as a whole has grown to over thirty vendors. We are now running a substantial profit as a market and employ myself as well as two seasonal employees to run it.

Photo by Rene Dakota

Photo by Rene Dakota

Currently the farmers market draws an average of 2,500 people a day, mostly recent residents made up of young families and empty nesters, but also a sizable contingent of elderly people who represent the old guard of the neighborhood.  The majority of shoppers live within a one mile radius and walk or bike to the market. In recent surveys we’ve conducted, the average amount spent at the market is $20 a person, so for a total of the 26 weeks that the market runs, that’s a total estimate of $1.3 million spent at the market a year instead of at the supermarket. 85% of those shoppers then go on to shop at the local brick and mortars in the rest of the business district spending many more thousands on any given Saturday. This is a growing economy.

What does this mean for our local vendors and businesses? Many of our farmers and specialty food vendors generate their whole income by selling retail at farmers markets, where they can get much more per unit than they would if selling wholesale. Many of them, due to their success at our market and others in the area, are now moving into their own brick and mortars after spending years in shared kitchens, or expanding in other ways. This is the farmers market as a slow economy incubator, providing a storefront for those without.  Probably over 60 people are working at the market every Saturday and still, almost every week, I’m bombarded by vendors looking for extra help. This is job creation.

The neighborhood itself has been changing as well, from a place ten years ago where business owners pulled down metal grates across their storefronts at night, to one of rising property values and an influx of new and exciting businesses catering to all demographics. While I won’t credit these changes to the success of the farmers market as such neighborhood growth is a seriously complex ecosystem, the market, centered in historic town green, is symbolic of this wider revitalization, and a very public example how the residents of this neighborhood and city are changing the way they shop. This is how you build a real estate market while defying gentrification.

It’s clear the communities across the state and country have begun to embrace these tenets of shopping small in a big way. Massachusetts has a total of 254 farmers markets, up 55% from only five years ago. Nationally, since the turn of the millennium, farmers markets have grown from 2,863 to 8,144, a 284% growth.  That’s enormous! It strikes me that the economic arguments against shopping at farmers markets, while certainly valid in some respects, especially for low income shoppers (though that demographic is shopping at markets in increasing numbers also), hold less water once you really delve into them, otherwise, how could all these thousands of expensive shopping locales be popping up in the midst of a recession? The benefits of shopping local are long term and are an investment in our collective future.

Every day I’m at the market I’m astounded at how happy people are to be there, interacting with their neighbors and friends, tasting the diversity of local food products our state produces, and strengthening their connection to this place and to each other. This is the secret to what will be the success of the Slow Movement and what faceless malls and parking lots lack. Slow Food has to be based on our human connections first, everything else comes later. This is why I’m using the dollar (perhaps lamely) as a stand in for what we humans value. Money spent at a chain, representative of a consumer culture based upon mountains of debt and vacuity, is cheap money, both in terms of its spending power (remember that %168 rule) but also in terms of what it actually buys us, which is just items, not an actual connection with your neighbors, your block, your neighborhood, your city, and it’s not a smart pathway towards providing a strong foundation for the future of our communities.

This Food Day, Visit ChopChop at Shaw’s and Give Your Family a Supermarket Education

Supermarkets are the perfect place to get kids excited about cooking-it’s like being in a museum where they are able to touch, smell, and sometimes even taste (if there are samples or demos.) At a supermarket, kids are literally surrounded by food and it provides a great opportunity to discuss positive food choices. Take a tour together of the supermarket and show them which aisles have the healthiest selection.

Food Day is a great time to visit your local supermarket and share this time together. And ChopChop may be in your local market this Food Day!

We’re teaming up with Shaw’s, Cabot, and the New England Dairy Promotion Board to get kids cooking. Stop by any Shaw’s or Star Market this Wednesday October 24 (Food Day!) and you will find copies of ChopChop. You’ll also find a booth where Cabot and Shaw’s representatives will be making Crazy Bobs-fruit and Cabot cheese kabobs. Get your kids involved in the process of making snacks and take a ChopChop recipe card home so they can recreate the kabob.

Kids may even want to go shopping to purchase their ingredients. For Crazy Bobs, let children peruse the produce section and choose their own fruits and vegetables. Then stop by the cheese section and do the same.

  ChopChop is a quarterly, non-profit cooking magazine aimed at ages 5-12 and their families that encourages kids to get in the kitchen and try new foods by cooking them.

ChopChop’s mission is to inspire and teach kids to cook and eat real food with their families. The magazine was launched as an antidote to childhood obesity. We believe that cooking and eating together as a family is a vital step in resolving the obesity and hunger epidemics.

How to find ChopChop:

Visit chopchopmag.org for recipes, games, and fun food facts and to subscribe to ChopChop.

Find us:  Facebook     Twitter      Pinterest

 

Making Food Day into Food Week: Plan a Week of Cooking and Learning in Your Kitchen

Here at ChopChop, we celebrate food 365 days a year.  ChopChop is a quarterly, non-profit cooking magazine aimed at ages 5-12 and their families that encourages kids to get in the kitchen and try new foods by cooking them.

ChopChop’s mission is to inspire and teach kids to cook and eat real food with their families. The magazine was launched as an antidote to childhood obesity. We believe that cooking and eating together as a family is a vital step in resolving the obesity and hunger epidemics.

There’s been a big push lately encouraging kids to “Eat The Rainbow.” This was even the theme of ChopChop’s Summer 2012 issue. Eating a variety of food across the whole color spectrum allows kids to get the different nutrients provided by each color.

Turn Food Day into Food Week by inviting your kids to help you plan and cook a rainbow-themed week. Each day, pick a different color, choose a recipe that goes along with that color’s theme, and cook together. By the end of the week kids will have made seven new recipes, learned about seven new foods, and learned to balance their diet-beautifully. Then try to connect cooking  with concepts kids are learning in school, using the recommendations below.

Here are some fun rainbow recipes to try. Click the image to find the recipe.  (Lots more are available at chopchopmag.org)

Red: Applesauce

Orange: Pumpkin-Pie Smoothie

Yellow: Egg Quesadilla

Green: Do-It-Yourself Lettuce Wraps

Blue: Blueberry Smoothie

Purple: Cabbage Slaw

All Colors: Rainbow Sandwich

We aim to make cooking cool and more relevant to the lives of children. A great way to get even more out of your kitchen time is to practice concepts learned in school and relate them to cooking.

Here are a few ideas to make every day an educational Food Day in your kitchen:

  1. Math: Use cooking as an opportunity discuss fractions, serving size, patterns, categories, conversions, and basic math skills such as addition and subtraction.
  2. Science: Discuss chemical reactions in food, where food comes from, the scientific method, and have cooking experiments.\\
  3. English: Learning new food words, try recipe writing, and create menus.
  4. Culture/Social Studies: Make foods from your family’s cultural background, match foods to their country of origin, and try foods from different countries.
  5. Art: Create placemats and design dinner menus.

How to find ChopChop:

Visit chopchopmag.org for recipes, games, and fun food facts and to subscribe to ChopChop. 

Find us:  Facebook     Twitter      Pinterest

Hunger Action Month Highlights Critical Need

In thinking of Food Day, it is important to think about those who might not have access to the nutritious food options many of us enjoy. Food, a fundamental human need, is not something that is enjoyed equally by all. More than 800,000 residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts seek emergency food assistance each year.

As we prepare for Food Day in October, we should also consider that September is Hunger Action Month, a national initiative to “Speak Out Against Hunger”. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick realizes the importance of this initiative, and has issued a proclamation to make September 2012 Hunger Action Month in the Commonwealth.

A family on a SNAP budget has just $4 per day to feed each member of the family, an unthinkable budget for many. It’s difficult to go out to lunch without spending at least $10. How do you feed your family on such a restricted budget?

How about a family of four, working, but making just $45,000 per year? This household income means the family won’t qualify for any assistance at all, and yet the average cost of living in Suffolk County for a family of that size is $72,000. These families make tradeoffs between rent, heat, fuel, medicine and food each and every day.

This month, Hunger Action Month, as you enjoy the bounties of the fall harvest, consider ways you can help give back to the community in which you live. As we enter fall, and begin to consider plans for the next big Thanksgiving feast, let’s also think about ways we can get involved to make sure every family is able to enjoy a wonderful meal on Thanksgiving this year.

Everyone has a role in ending hunger in our community.

For ways to get involved and “Speak Out Against Hunger” this month, Visit www.GBFB.org/HungerActionMonth

WooFood brings Food Day to a Restaurant near you, every day

One thing that makes Food Day great is the wide scope of awareness it brings to Food, from the impact on the environment, to fair working conditions, to your health.  WooFood, a Worcester, MA based nonprofit founded in 2010 by three University of Massachusetts Medical Students and supported by great community partners including the Worcester Department of Public Health and Pioneering Healthier Communities has focused in on the issue of health.  As clinicians, we recognized that no matter how often you are told to “eat a good diet” that it would be next to impossible to do if your environment doesn’t support those decisions.  Quite frankly, nobody, (not even doctors or medical students) makes the best decisions for their health all of the time.  In order for someone to do this, we would have to assume: 1) healthful food choices are actually available  2) the person has infinite and accurate knowledge (which is difficult with a new fad diet being introduced every 5 minutes)  3) the person has infinite willpower, and 4) one has plenty of time to work through all of the complicated choices presented to them.

This is a nearly impossible task. If we can’t expect even the experts to , why should we expect everyone to?  WooFood was founded with a recognition of this, and a passion for delicious food.

So what is WooFood?
WooFood is a non-profit organization that seeks to make the healthy choice the easy choice in restaurants. We utilize something known as “Choice Architecture” to build a restaurant experience that promotes healthful choices. So what the heck does that mean? One simple example is the default (automatic) option. Often times, when you go out to eat, the default option is not a very healthy option, regardless of what you order. There are not enough vegetables, too much cheese, too large portion size, etc. We want to make the default option a healthful option but leave the customer with the option to make it less healthful, if they so desire.  To learn more, read on!

What can I expect at a WooFood Certified Restaurant?

1.The healthful choice is the easy choice.  

Seared sea scallops with a tequila marinated strawberry salsa, black rice, a drizzle of mango purèe and balsamic glaze.

WooFood doesn’t take away choice, but does want to make the better choice easier for you to make.  Many WooFood certified restaurants offer to “Make it WooFood Certified” and will make you a more healthful version of their most popular dishes on request.

2. Healthful options that are clearly marked with the WooFood logo.   At least two of these options will be vegetarian and at least one will be non-vegetarian. For WooFood, it isn’t enough to have something that is just healthful. We want to make sure that it tastes good.

3. An easy way to reduce portion size 

(most of our restaurants offer “Dinner For Now, Tomorrow’s Chow” which means half of your meal gets wrapped up to bring home and half is brought out hot and fresh!).

If you’re like most people, it’s game over if you’re hungry and a giant plate of food is put in front of you.

Is WooFood a vegetarian, local, or organic movement?  No!  Food Day certainly encourages organic farms, and WooFood is supportive of many of these movements in spirit; however, while these movements do often encourage healthful eating, you can have something that is local and organic that is NOT healthy (I’m looking at you, Mr. local organic bacon…).  Finally, WooFood has a social mission of certifying restaurants in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Requiring local or organic produce, at least at this time, would be prohibitive and discriminate against these restaurants.  WooFood supports restaurants using local and organic ingredients, but we do not require it for certification.


Questions? Comments? Let us know! info@woofood.org  Happy Food Day!

How has WooFood been so successful so quickly?  WooFood has great community partners including, but not limited to those listed below!