Turlock Unified School District was already making some progress in getting fresh local fruits and vegetables on school lunch and breakfast menus. Director of Child Nutrition at Turlock Unified School District, Scott Soiseth, was contracting with some farmers and trying to purchase produce at farmers markets. However, the price and logistics became obstacles. Spezzano was part of a group assembled to facilitate the process.

"Nutrition directors are responsible for as many as 50 schools," Spezzano said. "They can't be getting bills from a litany of small farmers and having an army of farmers' trucks backing up to their cafeterias."

This problem was solved by forging a key partnership with Internet start-up AgLink.com. Created by a farming family, the company facilitates direct sales of fresh fruits and vegetables from numerous small- and mid-sized farms via their e-commerce website. The schools gets real-time information about fresh fruits and vegetables in season and AgLink provides the produce all consolidated onto one bill. Soiseth said he is thrilled with the variety and quality of produce he is getting from local farmers through AgLink.com.

Special "farmers market" tasting after school

Another link in the nutrition education chain takes place after school. The UC Cooperative Extension nutrition program teamed up with the Turlock Unified School District Child Nutrition Education Program and AgLink.com to provide a farmers market experience for the children. After a brief and entertaining presentation by a UCCE nutrition educator, the children line up and fill brown paper bags with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

During a recent farmers market program at Cunningham Elementary School in Turlock, children selected veggie packets that contained sliced and ready to eat green, yellow and red bell peppers, jicama, zucchini and other vegetables. Whole, but small-sized apples, peaches, nectarines, oranges and Asian pears were available for the taking.

"It's a way to get kids excited about the produce they're getting at school," said Marc Sanchez, UCCE nutrition educator in Stanislaus and Merced counties.

No child is forced to eat fruits and vegetables, but they are encouraged to join the "two-bite club," Sanchez said.

"The two-bite club is for those daring foodies that see something they are a little reluctant to try, but they take two bites. The first bite, they may not like it. Maybe the second bite will be something they like," Sanchez said. "Regardless of their reaction to it, whether they like it or not, being brave enough to explore the culinary world by trying two bites forever gets them in the two-bite club."

 

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