The United Fresh Start Foundation recently held FreshStart Tour: Palm Springs Unified School District at FreshStart 2019, providing the produce industry with a behind-the-scenes look at school foodservice operations.
Stephanie Bruce, the nationally recognized director of nutrition services for the Palm Springs School District, welcomed dozens of produce professionals from across the supply chain at their central kitchen for a tour, lunch at the school offices and an hour-long question-and-answer session.
Tour participants observed school foodservice in action, and discovered how produce and other foods are received, cooked and prepared, and ultimately delivered to the district’s 28 schools and 22,000 children each day, 87 percent of whom are eligible for free and reduced meals.
It was evident that industry representatives were impressed, and surprised, to learn the intricacies of a school nutrition program.
“They’re turning the idea of boring school meals on its head and are introducing students to exciting and healthy meals with a variety of fruits and vegetables,” said Stefanie Katzman, member of the United Fresh Wholesaler-Distributor Board and Executive Manager of S. Katzman Produce, in The Bronx, NY.
The district serves breakfast, lunch, after school suppers and coordinates a summer meal program in collaboration with the Palm Springs area Boys & Girls Club. The district served over 4 million meals last year alone.
Attendees started the tour in the kitchen, as staff worked feverishly to prepare a school-favorite — pasta with homemade tomato sauce and meatballs. As the attendees entered the bakery, the aroma of cinnamon filled the air as racks of applesauce muffins baked in giant ovens.
All of the district’s school meals are served fresh, challenging the staff to prepare and transport the meals efficiently for optimal consumption.
Bruce noted the importance of collaborating with the produce industry for greater insights on fresh produce procurement, including info on pricing and markets.
The tour continued into the warehouse, where celery sticks adorned with ranch were packed in small containers for the school’s snack program. In the back of the warehouse, attendees explored the vast storage of dried goods, fruits and vegetables. As the tour reached its conclusion, at the loading dock, a truck had just returned from its delivery to the school. The crew explained the meticulous way they packed the trucks, ensuring each cart was delivered to the appropriate schools.
Following the tour, attendees enjoyed a lunch catered by the district, and Bruce also gave a PowerPoint presentation, providing a greater understanding of school foodservice budgets, USDA nutrition requirements, and even more in-depth knowledge of how Palm Springs Unified School District’s kitchen manages its operations.
Katzman drew parallels between her business and school foodservice, recognizing a school district must also follow a budget, keep “customers” happy and achieve a certain amount of sales. Although S. Katzman Produce doesn’t sell directly to schools, a large part of their business is with distribution companies that work with schools.
“During the tour I was exposed to a lot of ideas that could help me better serve my customers who work with schools, Katzman says. “Seeing school foodservice operations firsthand and understanding the intricacies give me better insight into my customers’ business. After all, my customers’ customers are my customers, also!”
By: Ben Massoud, Communications Manager, United Fresh Produce Association