Something delicious is being served up at schools in the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District (FUESD). Since 2015, FUESD has been collaborating with the statewide California Thursdays® program to serve healthy, freshly prepared meals featuring California-grown ingredients. Fallbrook Union Elementary School District joined the Center for Ecoliteracy’s California Thursdays Network to source ingredients from California farmers, ranchers, and producers. For students, that means fewer “heat-n-serve” dishes made with processed ingredients; for local economies, it means getting a boost from local spending; and for educators, it means better nourished students who are ready to learn.
To celebrate joining the California Thursdays Network, Fallbrook Union Elementary School District prepared locally pastured, roasted lemon herb chicken drumsticks from Pasturebird Poultry of Warner Springs, a whole grain dinner roll from local S&S bakery, freshly sliced persimmons and cherry tomatoes grown in Redlands at Old Grove Orange, and aquaponic-grown romaine lettuce from local grower De Luz Aquaponics for the district's roughly 5,000 students.
Why is it a big deal? California public schools serve over 1 billion meals each year, and now the California Thursdays Network represents 33 percent of that total. Plus, food service team members take immense pride in serving freshly prepared meals made with local ingredients.
A Growing Model for the State and the Nation
The California Thursdays program is predicated on the simple logic that California children will benefit from eating fresh, California-grown food. The program’s organizer, the Center for Ecoliteracy, recognizes that freshly prepared meals made with local ingredients are more likely to appeal to students. This theory was proven in the first year of the program, when districts reported a 13 percent increase in school lunch participation on days featuring California Thursdays meals.
Building on student and staff support, California Thursdays has grown at a rapid clip. What began with a single school district in 2013, evolved into a program with 15 school districts in October 2014, and has now expanded to 89 districts in 33 counties statewide. Collectively, the California Thursdays Network represents 3,195 schools, with an enrollment of over 2 million students, and thousands of staff who serve over 334 million meals a year. Every year, more and more of those millions of meals feature California-grown food.
“California Thursdays is a great first step in celebrating all that California agriculture has to offer,” says California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. “It brings awareness to the fresh, wholesome, and seasonally appropriate bounty of our great state. If we feed our children good healthy food, and if we connect them back to the places, the people and the practices that reveal where our food comes from, I think we're going to have great decision-makers in our future.”
Rewarding Local Tastes and Local Innovations
California Thursdays is not a one-size-fits-all program. Each district tailors their menu options to their students’ preferences, their school site capacities, and the availability of fresh ingredients. At Fallbrook Union Elementary, fresh produce is part of our heritage as an agricultural community. This year, the focus is on sustainable products that minimize harm to our planet. Local farmer, Pasturebird, has roots that resonate with this mission. Their process of raising chickens outside and rotating birds to fresh pasture every day builds soil health, promotes high animal welfare, eliminates the need for antibiotics and drugs, and bolsters a rural community with ag jobs here in San Diego County.
New districts in the California Thursdays Network include: Calistoga Joint Unified, Hayward Unified, Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified, Lucia Mar Unified, Madera Unified, Merced Union High, Nevada City School of the Arts, Ojai Unified, Paso Robles Joint Unified, Perris Union High, Plumas Lake Elementary, Robla Unified, San Jacinto Unified, San Lorenzo Valley Unified, Santa Ana Unified, Solana Beach Elementary, South San Francisco Unified, Twin Rivers Unified, and Western Placer Unified School Districts.