Downpour of Dedication: A Culinary Workshop Amidst California’s Storms

We kicked off the 2-day event with a welcome dinner on Sunday, extending hospitality to out-of-town participants who braved the storm to join us. Folks explored the ranch before settling into the Outlook Cafe for a fresh local organic and delicious meal of authentic tamales, flavorful black beans, and fresh salad curated by Jennifer Sherman, Culinary Director AWI, all made with 100% organic ingredients.

The workshop started bright and early, even amid torrential rains, serving as a testament to the resilience and passion of all involved. Food service teams, chefs, and farmers gathered at Paicines Ranch Overlook Cafe’s beautiful kitchen to share wisdom, exchange ideas, and strengthen their understanding of the organic farm-to-school movement.

The group was divided into three teams led by chefs Jennifer Sherman, Culinary Director at the Alice Waters Institute, Carlos Cañada, Director of Food and Beverage at Paicines Ranch, and Reylon Agustin, Director of Culinary at Post Ranch Inn to each prepare different components of our FLOSN lunch. The menu was crafted to showcase the bounty of the season and highlight the importance of locally-sourced, organic ingredients with recipes adapted from A School Food Revolution, Alice Waters’ forthcoming school food manifesto. From savory BBQ chicken with cornbread to flavorful roasted squash tacos with avocado salsa, every dish told a story of community, sustainability, and nourishment. Butternut squash muffins with a hint of ginger provided the perfect ending to our culinary journey. Cooking in teams while getting to know one another was rewarding on its own, and enjoying the beautiful lunch together offered a newfound sense of community amongst participants.

Beyond delectable meals, the workshop fostered meaningful connections between food service teams and local, small organic farmers. Insightful discussions ranged from procurement practices to menu planning strategies, with each exchange reinforcing the shared goal of creating healthier and more sustainable food systems in schools. One farmer who had sold produce to an East Bay district for some time finally met its Food Service Director, which allowed him to share his interest in a more robust long-term partnership to meet district needs. At the next table, a group of Food Service Directors exchanged tips on how to train staff to scratch cook. 

Two Conscious Kitchen Fellows joined us for the workshop: Hilla Abel who studies Policy and Food Systems at UC Berkeley, and is doing a project to discover best practices in schools transitioning to FLOSN procurement, and Michael Blampye, who is pursuing his Master of Public Health at the University of San Francisco, concentrating on behavioral health.

“It was an amazing opportunity to speak to the important players doing this work. I learned so much in my conversations with farmers and Food Service Directors over the course of the day. Everyone was really generous in sharing their experiences, all with the common goal of feeding fresh, nutritious food to children,” Hilla shared. 

Likewise, Michael found the event to be highly productive, as it provided a platform for experts to discuss successes and propose enhancements, specifically focusing on streamlining purchasing and sales between Food Service Directors and organic farmers. These suggestions bring mutual benefits to the community and farm-to-school operations, propelling genuine growth for the future. 

Participants left with newfound inspiration and a renewed sense of purpose to take back to their schools and farms. The success of the event underscores the continued momentum of the farm-to-school movement in California and beyond. By bridging the gap between local farmers and school kitchens, we sow seeds for a healthier, more equitable future.

Looking ahead, Conscious Kitchen remains committed to furthering the farm-to-school movement through continued collaboration with partners, advocacy, and education.

As we reflect on the invaluable connections forged and insights gained at the workshop, we are reminded of the transformative power of food. With every meal served, we have the opportunity to nourish not only our bodies, but also our lands, communities and planet. The journey towards a more just, sustainable food system begins with each of us — and together, we will lead the charge to cultivate a brighter future for generations to come.

Districts & Farms in Attendance

Albany USD, Clovis USD, Evergreen Elementary SD, Milpitas USD, North Monterey County USD, Pajaro Valley USD, San Leandro USD, San Mateo Foster City SD, West Contra Costa USD, Western Placer USD

Catalan Family Farms, Frog Hollow Farm, Green Nation, Organic Farms, Hikari Farms, JAS Family Farm Organics, JSM Organics, Mimi’s Organics, My Organic Farm, Nana Mae’s Organics, Oya Organic Farm, Salazar Organic Farm, The Queen of Vegetables Organic Farm

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