As childhood obesity and diabetes rates skyrocket, the importance of the relationship that today’s children have with food has become increasingly clear. Adam Kesselman, a chef and creative leader of systemic change, is working with The Center for Ecoliteracy to bring farm-to-table meals to Oakland Unified School District and districts throughout California. Together, they introduced, California Thursdays ™, an initiative that works not only to bring fresh, regionally sourced food to students, but also focuses on growing local economies by investing in local ingredients.
What is your background and how did you come to starting the Lunch Trust?
I got into school food in 2005, I joined a company called Acre Gourmet which ran school lunch programs in San Francisco and Marin. Our goal was to serve farm-to-table food. We tried to procure as many organic ingredients as we could, and we made everything from scratch. That was a unique business at the time. In 2012, I decided I wanted a bigger reach and decided to start the Lunch Trust. I wanted to be able to work with more school districts to apply the entrepreneurial spirit that I had fostered in my own business to help schools either run their own program or help organizations who were running those programs for schools do it better.
Can you give brief explanation of what Lunch Trust is
It’s a consultancy that aims to create exemplary food service programs in schools.
How do you see yourself transforming the way that children experience food with your programs?
First and foremost, by providing delicious food and being transparent about where it comes from. It’s partially educating the pallet through taste as well as educating about how the food is produced. I think we’ve become very divorced from where our food comes from and how it gets from the farm to the plate. Teaching kids that food doesn’t come in boxes and about seasonality—that strawberries don’t grow in December, and that there are lots of flavors out there. I have had the privilege of working with The Center for Ecoliteracy since 2012 and one of their approaches to food literacy is looking at ethnic flavor profiles. So, connecting the flavors of food to the myriad ethnic cultures in California to which students can identify. We’re making these connections for kids, we’re making food interesting and explaining that it’s something to be enjoyed and has a rich culture that involves many people: the people that grow it, the people that prepare it, and that it’s a communal process.
How does your background as a chef change your perspective and approach to these programs?
Food has always been my passion. I really think that at the end of the day, people love things that taste good; food evokes memories and emotions. Understanding the power of food and the power of taste and flavor…it’s a form of communication.
Explain California Thursdays are and how it has expanded and progressed.
I worked with The Center for Ecoliteracy to develop California Thursdays in partnership with Oakland Unified School District. The program was created with the building of a central kitchen urban farm and education center in West Oakland in mind. In order to prepare the district to start making more of their food from scratch and serving more local California food, we had to address issues like procurement, menu development and training. We needed to start small, so we started California Thursdays as a bite size implementation strategy for serving California food to California kids. As of late April, California Thursdays is being implemented weekly. We’ve taken a year to develop recipes and train the district’s staff on what California Thursdays is. The slow rollout allowed local growers to increase their production capacity and it helps Oakland build distribution and procurement channels. As a result of this pilot program, we’re in the process of planning a statewide launch of California Thursdays. The power of that to California agriculture and local communities is immense.
Explain the multiplier affect and how investing in local ingredients can help grow local economies.
The multiplier effect comes from an Ecotrust study, which examined the impact of purchasing locally for a school district. The study concluded a 1.86 output multiplier stating that for every dollar spent on agriculture by school districts, successive rounds of spending leads to another $.86 of spending in the local economy. They also recognized a 2.43 employment multiplier, stating for each job created by school districts purchasing local foods, successive rounds of economic activity create another 1.43 jobs.
This is a powerful message. One thing to remember about schools is that they are essentially the biggest restaurants in any city. California serves nearly 1 billion meals a year in schools, so by working with schools you’re shifting the system in dramatic ways that have huge ramifying effects for local economies and our food system.
Check out a few healthy summer recipes created for California Thursdays:
Written by Kate Koeller