Esparto High School’s Cook – Lavella Kieny

LAVELLA KIENY, COOK, ESPARTO HIGH SCHOOL, Esparto Unified School District, Esparto, CA

Origin: Live Oaks, CA

Things are about to change at Esparto High School, and for Lavella Kieny, who runs the school’s cafeteria. Next school year, 2014-15, the campus is going to be closed. That means students will either eat the school lunch provided by the district or bring their lunch and eat it on campus. Currently only about 50 of the 250 to 300 students who attend the high school eat lunch on campus. In fact, the current lunch room isn’t large enough to hold all of them at one time.

However, that problem will be remedied. Behind the cafeteria, in a large open space, a covered seating structure will be built this year and over the summer, ready to open in time for the 2014-2015 school year and will provide plenty of seating for all the students.


Currently, Lavella not only prepares and serves lunch, but prepares and serves brunch. “A lot of kids ride the valley bus and have to catch it at 6:30 am.” Consequently, a lot of them are really hungry before it’s actually lunch time, so the district provides for brunch items that are available for purchase. The day we visited, Lavella was heating up a selection of pizza, corn dogs, tater tots, and French toast (pictured left), freshly sprinkled with powdered sugar.
For lunch, the students would be served chicken fajitas, fresh fruits and vegetables provided by the large, modern cooking kitchen located at the school district’s middle school (pictured left).

Lavella has been with the district for 10 years, starting out doing yard duty. “Then they had an opening for a cook’s helper, and then I took my food safety training course, the HACCP.”  She’s raised 5 of her own children, and cooked meals for them which included a little bit of everything, like we all do really, but a family favorite is her chile bean casserole.

Who knows? Maybe that chile bean casserole will show up on the new high school menu – chile bean casserole for 250 students, along with salad, fresh fruits and vegetables from the nearby Capay Valley, home to organic market growers of everything from tomatoes to peaches.

This concludes our series on Esparto Unified School District. We’ve had the pleasure of working with them through the Yolo County Farm to School program, offering professional development cooking lessons to Lavella and the rest of the staff, under the direction of Stacie Velaquez, Director, Food Services. There’s one more year, and three classes to go on that grant, provided by the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Grant Program – and we’ve been featuring much of what California grows in recipes that will  soon be available on line for all to download, at family size and scaled up in Nutrikids format for 50 and 100. They will be available at Yolo Farm to School’s website, Harvest Hub Yolo. http://www.harvesthubyolo.org/farm-to-school.

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