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FROM FARM TO SCHOOL: News flash: TH students prefer salad to pizza!


LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION–It’s as important when you’re designing your lunch as when you’re choosing a house.

So, lunchtime, Your School: Right at the front of the line, position a big, gleaming salad bar that’s chock-full of gorgeous multicolored fresh vegetables and fresh and dried fruits plus some protein (maybe some really good bacon or some such that makes a salad special). Add one cheerful, perky server (Danielle) garbed in a happy-vegetable apron, who doles out appropriately sized portions so that every salad is a healthy salad and not a bacon extravaganza. Line up the kids, and Ta Da!–even on Pizza Day, they’ll buy more salad than pizza!

I call that amazing, and I hope you do, too. I was there for lunch recently, and that salad bar had everything I could have wished for. Yummy, and good for me, too.

Taconic Hills has done a super job of enticing students to eat healthier meals. Its food-service director, Pam Strompf, has some staffers who like to go the extra mile to serve better, more appealing options, and they’ve done workshops to learn tips for making healthier meals for less money. At their own expense, they’ve motored down to the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) in Hyde Park to sup at its Farm to Table restaurant and to draw inspiration from its menus. Now, almost all the soups they serve are homemade. (Mushroom/wild rice—mmm, good.) Fresh fruit consumption is up almost 25%, and for fresh vegetables it’s 30%. They’re using new recipes. They’re being creative with free government-provided commodity foods—many of which are high quality, very nutritious and amazingly appealing. And they get what they can from local farms.

Staff also make good use of what grows in the “pizza garden” and the greenhouse across the street, stopping by in the morning to select what’s fresh and ripe. For this spring’s Ag Week, ag teacher Vanessa Merrill tried out a new recipe–milk-based sweet onion/corn bake–and their only mistake was in underestimating the demand. A smash hit, it’s now a regular menu offering.

Learning what’s worked for others motivates a Taconic Hills/Greenville partnership that’s grown up over the last year. Strompf and her Greene County counterpart Paul Ventura have traded tours of their respective facilities to see what each has, and does: equipment, service, traffic, and, of course, food. Both have a passion for good food served to happy kids. The occasion for my lunch from the delectable TH salad bar was a visit by Ventura in which he, typically the teacher, traded places to learn a thing or two from Strompf about how she makes her operation shine. Credit rests not just on her and her staff, but on the district’s supportive board of education, too.

Playing a key role is the Kids in Motion program, part of the county’s Healthcare Consortium. To reduce childhood obesity, it’s provided a lot of the materials supporting that “overwhelmingly successful” (Strompf’s words) salad bar and the astonishing increase in fruit and vegetable consumption. Kids in Motion bought the salad bar, knives, cutting boards, and spinners, and even the happy-vegetable aprons (they’re really cute!). And it’s all part of the Farm to School initiative that works to connect school students with farms, farm processes and farm products.

There’s a lot more to the Taconic Hills story. There’s a lot more to every school’s story, and it’s pretty encouraging to see what each is doing, on location but behind the scenes. We talk about those stories so you can applaud their efforts.

To contact Virginia Martin email



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