From the Lompoc Record
Fresh local ingredients freshly prepared. That’s the recipe for Solvang School’s award-winning meal program instituted three years ago by food service director and chef Bethany Markee.
Starting this school year, an unusual cooperative venture will allow children at Oak Valley Elementary School in Buellton to dine in the same fashion.
“I think it’s good for the Valley and it’s good for the kids,” said Kathy English, chief business official in the Buellton Union School District. And, she said, “This is something that parents have wanted for quite some time.”
English and Markee have been hammering out the details of the arrangement for several years. Rather than contracting with a food service company for pre-packaged lunches as it has done in the past, Oak Valley will be picking up and transporting meals freshly prepared by Markee’s staff in the Viking Cafe at Solvang School.
To accommodate the extra 425 mouths to feed, Markee has added three additional members to her kitchen crew, the cost of which is to be shared by the schools.
Menu items include freshly made pizza, lasagna, burritos and sub sandwiches.
“The sauces are made fresh, the salad dressings are made fresh; everything that comes in is prepared in the kitchen,” said Markee. “They love the food here.”
Central to what Markee has dubbed the “Farm to Cafeteria” program, is what she calls a “special arrangement with the farmers in the Valley.”
Solvang School has partnered with Santa Ynez Valley Fruit and Vegetable Rescue, a non-profit company that gleans and redirects produce from farms and markets to schools and charitable organizations such as senior centers and homeless shelters.
“This is actually grade A, extra produce that is left in the field or in the market that they can’t sell. Everything you see in our salad bar is donated by them,” said Markee, who estimates the school receives 10,000 to 14,000 pounds of produce every year.
For its part, Oak Valley will contribute produce grown in its student-picked school garden, said English.
“It’s helpful to the kids. If we pull some of those tomatoes out of the garden and we put it in the sauce, they can see where that actually goes. A tomato isn’t just a tomato. It’s also tomato sauce, pasta sauce. It’s what goes on your pizzas.”
After 28 years working in the food industry, Markee arrived at Solvang School four years ago with the intention of changing how kids eat at school.
“I didn’t like what I was seeing children eat,” said Markee. “I feel like we have industrialized our food system and we over-process a lot of our foods, and I think our children are in trouble. One in five are diabetic and one in three are obese.”
In 2013, Markee and her team were honored as a runner-up in the national Golden Carrot Award, which recognizes food service teams doing exceptional work to improve the healthfulness of school lunches.
While she has partnered with several private schools in the Valley, this is the “first large public elementary school that we’ve taken on.”
Both women envision the program expanding. “I can see that this is going to work really well at Oak Valley this year and hopefully we can add Jonata [Middle School] next year.
“I created this program with the intention of feeding other schools,” said Markee. “I’m very passionate about what kids are eating and what they are not eating.”