By Andrea Northup and Anna Chute
Lisa Dobbs, Chef and Nutrition director at E.W. Stokes, will stop at nothing to make sure that the 350 students she serves each day have healthy, delicious meals. Cooking from-scratch and using no processed foods, she and her staff prepare breakfast, lunch and supper in their antiquated kitchen for the school’s population of mostly low-income students. Lisa incorporates fresh, locally-grown foods whenever possible, especially on the school’s salad bar. And she works with the rest of the school staff to ensure that the school’s garden, nutrition and wellness programs are coordinated with her healthy menus.
As the Director of the D.C. Farm to School Network, I heard about Joy Evans from a friend who works in a local farm-to-table restaurant. Joy and her husband operate a business called Shenandoah Foods, which delivers meat, cheese and eggs from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to Washington, DC-area restaurants. Joy takes a delivery fee from her clients to run her business, and then farmers deal directly with customers to handle food costs. I reached out to see if she might be interested to work with Washington, DC schools.
Getting local meats into school meals is difficult. Most schools buy pre-cooked commodity meat from large distributors. It’s cheap (less than $1 per lb) and can be ordered in the evening and delivered the next morning – a system that’s hard to beat. But we’re not quite sure where it comes from, and it’s not always the highest quality product. But with about $1 per meal to spend on food, school food service directors have to make difficult choices about what they can afford.
I invited Joy and her husband to Washington, DC to meet with a few schools interested in buying local meat. We had a lively discussion about what products schools want, how much they need, what prices they can afford, and how to handle invoicing and delivery. We tried some delicious cheeses, Virginia-grown ground beef hamburgers, and fresh yogurt with local berries. If your mouth isn’t watering, it should be - the school food service providers could taste difference.
Joy and Lisa connected, and decided on a trial-run of 200 pounds of lean ground beef for $2.60 per pound. Joy picked up the meat from D&M Meats in Harrisonburg, VA in her refrigerated van, and delivered it to E.W. Stokes in conjunction with her regular restaurant deliveries. Lisa and her team expertly sautéed and seasoned the ground beef, and served it with pico-de-gallo, tortilla chips, and fresh guacamole. The result? A delicious and healthy meal for hungry students, which put money into our local economy, supported a sustainable small producer and made clean-beef fans out of Stokes’ young scholars.
Lisa Dobbs, Food Service Director at E.W. Stokes says the quality of the Virginia-grown beef is unparalleled. There isn’t murky liquid left over after cooking – something she’s used to with the lower-quality products. “We would never go back to the beef we were cooking before! We would drop beef from our menu entirely if we had to go back,” says Lisa.
Lisa can’t serve local meat every day, but it’s on the menu about once or twice a week, and they are looking to incorporate other items like chicken and eggs. We’re working to get more schools on board, and we’re excited for the potential to grow this partnership.
Andrea Northup is manager of the D.C. Farm to School Network. Anna Chute is the network's intern. This article originally appeared on the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture blog.