Pacific Star Gardens, Yolo County

Pacific Star Gardens

Pacific Star Gardens

Meet Robert Ramming, the owner of Pacific Star Gardens, a small farm in Yolo County, at the upcoming  Farms & Schools Marketplace Exchange. November 12th, Wednesday, 2pm-4pm, reception follows. Norton Hall, 70 Cottonwood St. Woodland 95695. He’s been selling fresh produce to the Woodland Joint Unified School District for nearly two years.

When Spencer Springer became Food Service Director at the Woodland Joint Unified School District less than two years ago, he met with Robert and they started talking about how they might work together.

“It’s our second season now, selling to the Woodland School Food Service, and we’re still working on what works, what the kids will eat and what they won’t,” says Robert. And what so far, do the kids like that comes fresh, straight off the farm?
When schools starts in late August, tomatoes and melons are in the full flush of their season, lasting until late September, and the kids loved those. Robert, with the aid of shade cloth, is able to grow large quantities of lettuce, even in the hot Sacramento Valley sun, and the kids liked the lettuce as well.
A surprising kid favorite turned out to be Tokyo white turnip which was a new introduction on the salad bar last year, and Robert says the students really liked it. The Tokyo white is a small, tender turnip about the size of a round radish and quite mild compared to the larger, more familiar, purple-topped storage types of turnips.
When it comes from Pacific Star Gardens, Spencer knows he is serving food fresh off the farm food to the students. Robert harvests and delivers his produce the same day. The fresh vegetables appear primarily on the salad bar thus far, but both Spencer and Robert hope to see more and more scratch cooking in the school lunch kitchens, which will mean the students will get an increasing quantityi of fresh vegetables and also begin to explore the different kinds and varieties of vegetables. Who knows what next after Tokyo turnip? Candy-striped beet, maybe?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Capay Organic Wants to Join You for Lunch


Capay Organic’s Thaddeus Barsotti and other farmers will meet school food service directors representing over 200,000 school students at the November 12 Farms &  Schools Marketplace Exchange in Yolo County’s Woodland, CA. Reserve your place today at this free workshop.

Capay Organic, a sponsor of our blog Who’s Cooking School Lunch, is a second generation organic family farm in Yolo County’s Capay Valley. Started in 1976 by the late farming pioneer Kathleen Barsotti and her husband Martin Barnes, their sons, Thaddeus, Noah and Freeman now run the farm. The grow nearly 60 types of fruits and vegetables and over 130 varieties. They sell to school districts, restaurants, retail stores including their own in San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza. They also sell through farmers markets and run the largest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in the country.


“We know better nutrition helps kids perform better in school,” Thad (standing in a kale field at left) told us. “Providing fresh fruits and vegetables from our farm to local schools from Yolo County to the SF Bay Area has been a rewarding enterprise. We know we are making a difference in the quality of school lunches and hopefully, building good dietary habits for the future.”

Some of the other farms which will be represented are Riverdog, Full Belly, Good Humus, Vierra Farms, Loving Nature Farms, Orland Farmsteach Creamery, Pacific Star Gardens, Tenderheart Farms, Bull frog Bees Honey, and Hanks Hens & All Good Things.

Posted in Resource | Leave a comment

And More School Food Service Leaders Coming to Speed Date


Vince Caguin,  Coordinator of Nutrition Service & Warehouse, Natomas Unified School District, posing here next to his very spiffy ‘food service truck’ will be coming to the Farms & Schools Marketplace Exchange with several of his staff on November 12th. They, along with they other school food service attendees will  get a chance to meet one on one with local and regional farmers and talk about matching up their needs with those of the farmers who have product to sell to schools.


Who else is coming? Brenda Padilla for one. Brenda is the powerhouse behind the school lunch program in the Sacramento Unified School District. It’s not surprising that Brenda, pictured at left in her office, was one of the 8 Californians to receive the 2012 “Health Happens Hero Award” from The California Endowment for her work in bringing healthier meals to students. And,  now, with Sacramento claiming to be the Farm-to-Fork Capital of America, Brenda’s job (and school lunches) just keeps getting tastier.

Join Vince and Brenda as they meet with farmers and other innovative food service directors on November 12, 2014.

All the information is below.

Farms & Schools Marketplace Exchange
November 12th, Wednesday
2pm-4pm, reception follows
Norton Hall, 70 Cottonwood St. Woodland 95695

Buy from Farms, Sell to Schools
Want to buy high quality farm fresh product directly from farms? Can’t figure out how to connect with schools? Then this event is for you! It is designed to be a one-on-one exchange using a ‘speed dating’ model. Participants will have a chance to meet one another and exchange profiles with detailed information about their respective enterprise.
To attend this event, Pre-Registration is required. Please fill out BOTH the Registration Form AND the appropriate Questionnaire. The questionnaire is what Yolo County Department of Agriculture will use to creat your profile. Copies of your profile will be waiting for you here when you arrive.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Look Who’s Going to go Speed Dating with Farmers!

Stacie Velasquez

Stacie Velasquez

Stacie Velasquez, Esparto Unifed School District Cafeteria Supervisor, perhaps, at 23, the youngest in the state will be joining 20 or more other school food service directors in a speed dating session with regional farmers at the Farms & School Marketplace Exchange on November 12.  Esparto is located at the entrance to the fertile  Capay Valley and Stacie is looking forward to sitting down and talking directly with  farmers, one on one,  to see how she might bring their produce to the plates of Esparto’s students.

As the time gets closer, we will be posting about other food service directors who are attending. If you are interested in signing up and joining Stacie and others at the Exchange, the information is below.


Farms & Schools Marketplace Exchange
November 12th, Wednesday
2pm-4pm, reception follows
Norton Hall, 70 Cottonwood St. Woodland 95695

Buy from Farms, Sell to Schools
Want to buy high quality farm fresh product directly from farms? Can’t figure out how to connect with schools? Then this event is for you! It is designed to be a one-on-one exchange using a ‘speed dating’ model. Participants will have a chance to meet one another and exchange profiles with detailed information about their respective enterprise.
To attend this event, Pre-Registration is required. Please fill out BOTH the Registration Form AND the appropriate Questionnaire. The questionnaire is what Yolo County Department of Agriculture will use to create your profile. Copies of your profile will be waiting for you here when you arrive.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The big meet farmers moment…is coming


What’s going on? Farm to School is on the move, but not really happening as much as some school food service directors would like. Join Dominic Machi, Director, Nutrition Services at Davis Joint Unified School District, and other key leaders who are determined to buy more produce from Sacramento Regional Farmers. November 12, 2pm-4pm at 70 Cottonwood St. in Woodland. Register now for this free Farm to School Marketplace Exchange:Find Product, Meet People, Solve Logistics, Grow Your Program. We’ll be there, Georgeanne Brennan and Ann M. Evans, cofounders of this blog, to help you through the process. This “farmer speed dating” is limited to school food directors, their guests and buyers and, well, farmers of course. This is funded through a Specialty Crop Grant received by the Yolo County Department of Agriculture through the CA Department of Food and Agriculture.Download recipes that feature all the fruits and vegetables that California grows — in NutriKids Format, scaled for 50 and 100.

Posted in Recipe, Resource | Leave a comment

CA Specialty Crops: A Guide to Their Use in School Lunch


California Specialty Crops – think tomatoes, cabbage, pears, celery, lettuce – in short, just about every fruit, vegetable and nut you can imagine – are featured here in a new guidebook to using them in school lunch. California is the nation’s largest producer of many fruits and vegetables and this new guidebook shows how to incorporate them into school lunch in every way from salads to soups and entrees.

Press here to download your free copy to read the story of how this extraordinary book came to be and the many, many people who brought the book to fruition.

You’ll find recipes written by us, Georgeanne Brennan and Ann M. Evans, featuring California’s Specialty Crops by season, for family style, and for 50 and 100 using the NutriKids format, meeting USDA School Lunch nutritional requirements.

Many of the recipes were tested in the kitchens of Yolo County’s five school districts and are being served in school lunch rooms to students in West Sacramento, Esparto, Woodland, Davis, and Winters. If you use these recipes for school lunch, which we hope you will, let us know, send photos and we’ll post them.

Posted in Resource | Leave a comment

Chef Dominic Machi, Director of DJUSD Student Nutrition Services in Top 10 in National Contest

DJUSD’s Dominic Machi, recently featured here on Who’s Cooking School Lunch, places in top 10 of national school recipe contest.

Chef Dominic Machi, Director of DJUSD Student Nutrition Services, has embraced the opportunity to source more seasonal produce from local farms and other “ingredients that kids like.” Since starting with DJUSD in August 2013, he has revitalized the lunch menus to include restaurant-quality “house-made” items instead of pre-packaged ready-to-heat foods that have been a part of school lunches for years.

Machi created and tested a unique Italian Potato Gnocchi with puree of white navy bean, house made marinara sauce, fresh spinach, sliced black olives, and fresh basil that was entered in the Humane Society’s “Meatless Mondays” competition.

The kids loved it and the judges did, too! Congratulations on placing in the top 10, Dominic!

Originally posted by Yolo Farm to Fork.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Back to School with Chef Arturo – an Asset for Davis

Davis Joint Unified School District, Davis, CA
Origin: Nayarit, Mexico

When he moved to Davis, now nearly 24 years ago, he worked at the local Pluto’s, which has an extensive array of salad components from grilled fennel to jicama, finished dishes like Mac n’ Cheese, and all kinds of sandwiches, not too different from some of the food he prepares today in the Central Kitchen for Davis students.Arturo Topete arrived in Davis by way of Los Angeles, where he went to culinary college and honed his high-speed chopping skills at a taqueria.  “I had to chop fast – we made a lot of fresh salsa with tomatoes, onions, and chilies,” he laughs. He says he did a little of everything at the taqueria, before moving on to work nearly 3 years at the Cheesecake Factory, where he learned a different set of flavors and culinary skills.

However, he had one more culinary stint before coming to the school district, this one at Sudwerk’s, where braised red cabbage, German potato salad and bratwursts are the restaurant’s staples.

Today, Arturo says, “I have the best job. Our kids are never alone – we can travel over the weekends and school holidays. I’m so lucky to have come here. I came one day as a substitute, and they liked how I do my work.”

We’ve watched Arturo work for several years, and any business would be glad to have him. He used to primarily handle inventory and do some prep work and packaging in the kitchen, but for the last year, under the management of ‘Dom’ Dominic Machi, Director of Student Nutrition Services, Arturo quickly moved to supervising the central kitchen. “Chef Arturo, our main cook, our chef, plays an integral role in the success of our student nutrition program here in at DJUSD, due to his many skills and his dedication to our scratch cooking model,” says Dom.

Arturo smiled broadly as he told us, “I cook every day. I make all the sauces from scratch for the high school – barbeque, marinara, pesto, Italian meat sauce. And, no more ‘prepared’ taco meat here. I start with 80 pounds of ground beef, add the seasonings, all freshly made.” He pats the big kettle he uses.

He does recipe development as well. “Sometimes Dom tells me to work on something – a sauce maybe, and I play around with it, develop the recipe, and then scale it up. I really like working with Dom because he’s open with us and asks us what we think.” There is nothing like good management to bring out the talent and loyalty of employees, and we’ve heard only good things about Dom Machi’s management from his staff.

Arturo is clearly someone who is passionate about food and cooking. “Flavor is the most important thing,” he says, and he means it. “I want our mashed potatoes to taste fresh, so I use fresh potatoes. Sometimes for the kids, you have to change a dish a little so kids will like it, but you have to keep the flavor.”

It’s not surprising that Arturo grew up with a mother who cooked and, as he says, he kept close by her when she made soups, her special beans, and her rice. “I make the rice here for the kids the way she taught me – you fry the rice a little before you boil it and add the spices and sauce,” he reveals.

Does he still have the energy – and desire – to cook at home after a long day in the central kitchen? “Of course,” he answers. “My kids love my cooking. They ask me what I’m going to make, or I’ll ask them to choose. They really love my Alfredo sauce – I make it with heavy cream, garlic, a little flour, not too much, and Parmesan cheese.” Yum. We’d like some of his Alfredo sauce too.

As more and more men and women like Arturo are able to express their passion and talent in school kitchens across America, the more the children of American will benefit.

Favorite Tools: Big Kettle and Hobart Mixer

Posted in CA-Davis, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Davis’ Dominic Machi cooks from scratch for flavor and a better bottom line

Dominic Machi, Director of Student Nutrition Services, Davis Joint Unified School District, Davis, CA

Davis, a university town of 65,000 in the Sacramento Valley, is ahead of the school lunch curve — it passed the first in the nation parcel tax with a portion devoted to purchasing fresh, local food for school lunch. It is here we started our blog over 2 years ago– May 23, 2012. Today, nearly 100 interviews later, we circle back to Davis Joint Unified School District to check in on two culinary superstars in school lunch, starting first with Director, Student Nutrition Services, Chef Dominic Machi.

His first anniversary approaching, we caught up with him to see what he’s accomplished, running the school meal program at Davis, a district of about 8,500 students with an average free and reduced percentage of 20-21. The changes he has introduced to the program are all about increasing food quality and flavor through house-made product, while increasing the bottom line. The chef knows his business.

“Dom”, as he is called, had goals set out for him by the district – get participation up and cost down. His background was perfect. He grew up in a restaurant family in San Francisco and worked in butcher shops, got degrees in both hotel-restaurant and dietetics, worked in 4- star restaurants and directed several large school district food service operations. In those districts, he opened a 30,000 square foot kitchen and introduced scratch cooking. He knew that to achieve the district’s goals he had to market the lunches, resource products directly and focus on quality while keeping costs down. Part of marketing the lunches was serving the school board what the kids were eating (see menu left.)

“This is a business model I figured out in Newark [Unified School District in California where Dom also served as Director, School Food Service.] “To keep the cost of goods down, you have to use USDA Commodity proteins (like a USDA 8-way cut chicken) and you have to cook. Everything we do here is done right,” he says. “It all tastes like my mother made it.”

His personal goal is 85% house-made product.

In his chef’s whites, he’s as comfortable guiding through his kitchen a tour of USDA officials from Washington, D.C. who are learning the latest about school food as he is talking with farmers and purveyors about the products he wants. (Photo left is Dom with Anne Alonzo, Administrator for the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, during her 2013 Davis tour.) He works equally well with his staff, his administration, and his parent and community groups represented by Davis Farm to School, the now 14 year old “school lunch booster club” program. Its parent group, Yolo Farm to Fork, is active with Dom in his purchase of produce grown at Harper Junior High School, such as tomatoes for marinara sauce, and is transporting that model to the other four school districts in Yolo County.

Davis, located in the agriculturally rich Yolo County across the river from Sacramento, participates as one of the five school districts in a Specialty Crop farm-to- school grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, administered through the Yolo County Department of Agriculture under Commissioner John Young. In June, the county was ranked “30th healthiest county for kids in the nation” by U.S. News in June. At an April meeting of the school districts, whose focus is on increasing the use of local fruits and vegetables in their school meals program, Dom described his house-made product strategy.

Dom, a former Executive Chef at Bon Appétit, has a veritable house-made line. Entrée items include BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich, Macaroni and Cheese (yes, his own cheese sauce), Mandarin Chicken over Steamed Brown Rice, Cheese and Bean Burrito, and even a grilled cheese sandwich that’s not soggy. These are labeled on the lunch menu as house-made.

He’s introduced a line of house-made sauces including Alfredo and another line of dressings which include Ranch, Caesar, and a French Vinaigrette Salad. “My pizza sales have tripled,” he said. “The whole wheat crust was a challenge for us [to meet new USDA standards], but I found a wholesale bakery in Napa to make the rounds for us.” He adds his own house-made marinara sauce and toppings.

Dom is in partnership with his local university, the University of California Davis, to start a taste-testing program for other new house-made and flavor profile products he’s introducing. The cousous pictured left has already been introduced successfully as a part of increasing whole grains to meet the new USDA meal pattern. He has prioritized making sure kids don’t go hungry in the summer, starting a summer food program. The district began offering free lunches at two school sites in June and will run the program through August.

We think Dom has introduced just the right changes to keep the Davis School Meal Program growing in both student and community participation.

Posted in CA-Davis, Profile | Leave a comment

Looking for work?

We don’t usually post job announcements — but this one is too good to pass up, and, we’re getting a lot of college students reading the blog now who are very interested in farm to school and making a difference in school lunch — this shows there are jobs out there. As well, some of our friends cooking school lunch, whom we’ve interviewed, just might want to give this a try, or know of someone who would. Our friend, colleague and Gail Feenstra, Deputy Director, Food Systems Coordinator, Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (SAREP), Agricultural Sustainability Institute (ASI) at UC Davis, asked us to post. For more information on Gail, check out our blog on her thoughts as a national farm to school leader on the recent national farm to school conference in Austin, TX.


UC Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program

Apply by July 10


Under the direction of the Food and Society Academic Coordinator and in collaboration with external partners, plan and implement farm to school evaluations at school district, county and statewide levels. Collect and analyze procurement data, cafeteria environment scans, menu analyses, school garden and farm tour data, recycling/composting data and changes in children’s consumption patterns and or food preferences. Conduct and evaluate professional development activities (cooking classes, garden workshops, etc.) Develop evaluation protocols, conduct interviews and surveys, develop data spreadsheets, summarize research results and write reports. Synthesize results and write articles for peer-reviewed journals; do presentations for professional and practitioner audiences. Represent the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program’s (SAREP’s) Farm to School activities at local, state and national gatherings.

Help to organize and execute urban ag tours with youth in the Bay Area/ Sacramento. Develop urban agriculture tour curricula and training materials involving youth with input from advisors; work with 4-H and Urban Ag NGO leaders to develop content, revise and finalize for widespread distribution. Manage logistics of Urban Ag tours including communication, transportation, food, and educational materials. Conduct outreach about the urban ag tours, focusing on social media and new forms of electronic outreach; involve youth in the outreach. Organize all project documents and write progress and final reports.

Research grant opportunities and help write grant proposals to fund SAREP’s Food and Society initiatives.


Posted in Job Announcement. | Leave a comment