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Get Schools Cooking 4th Cohort Workshop Recap

Right before school meal programs (and the rest of the world) were turned on their head, Chef Ann Foundation (CAF) hosted its kickoff workshop for the 4th cohort of Get Schools Cooking districts in Boulder, CO. Food service departments throughout the country have since shifted their focus, but we wanted to take a moment to highlight what was an exceptional few days with a group of passionate school food leaders. Because once things return to “normal”—whenever that may be—we will be here, continuing to support the work of those looking to create change.

Over the course of a couple days, participants attended informational sessions, delicious dinners at local restaurants River & Woods and Bramble & Hare, school kitchen visits throughout Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), and a panel discussion with foodservice professionals from BVSD. Read on for a first-hand look at what the workshop entailed!

Day One

To kick off the workshop, districts joined the Chef Ann Foundation team and program partners for dinner at River and Woods, known for its Colorado comfort cuisine. After drinks and appetizers were served, attendees heard from CAF CEO Mara Fleishman; program partners including Kim Herrington of Whole Kids Foundation; Daniel Asher, Executive Chef of River and Woods; and of course, founder Chef Ann Cooper. Guests were served dinner family-style, passing around crispy sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, citrus chicken, “Aunt Penny’s” mac and cheese (pictured below), dessert, and more. Left: Terry Wunrow and Elizabeth Messerli from 4th cohort district Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools.

Day Two

“If you didn’t get good sleep last night, you certainly will after today,” said Beth Collins, before going into the day’s sessions. Attendees laughed, but Collins had a point; day two was jam-packed with informative sessions, site visits, and more.

Districts attended sessions like Changing the School Food Landscape: Vision and Action by Collins and Ann Cooper; Knowing Your Numbers by fiscal expert Loreen Farrell; Menu Planning Strategies in Fresh Food Programs by Collins and Cooper; and more. Each session hit on pieces of CAF’s five key areas of school food operations: food, finance, facilities, human resources, and marketing. Presenters focused on providing districts with the needed resources, tools, and ideas to take back to their districts as they move through the Get Schools Cooking program and introduce more scratch cooking.

“If you have a plan—a mission, vision, wellness policy, and are laser-focused—it happens.” – Chef Ann Cooper on implementing healthier food in schools

The day also included two school site visits within BVSD, giving attendees a first-hand look at what it’s like to run a fully scratch-cooked school food operation (right).

BVSD’s meal program (School Food Project) catered lunch at the Hyatt Place (left), where sessions took place, and folks ended the day at Bramble & Hare, Boulder’s original farmhouse kitchen and pub.

Day Three

The final day of the GSC workshop started with an early-morning breakfast and regional kitchen tour at BVSD’s Casey Middle School. Attendees enjoyed breakfast burritos before splitting into two groups, alternating between the tour led by Chef Ann (below) and a presentation by Collins and Farrell on what to expect during the next step of the program: the on-site assessment.

“I feel so fortunate to be in this room; to get the opportunity to learn what we can do better and show children what real food can be like.” – Elizabeth Messerli, Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools

Following the middle school visit, participants had the opportunity to ask BVSD district kitchen managers and Shelly Landgraf (previous HR Director for the district) questions about their jobs and transitioning from a heat and serve operation to one of the leading scratch cook programs in the country. With staff being an integral piece of any school meal program, Landgraf also shared valuable insights regarding human resources with the group. The day ended with a closing circle, during which all workshop attendees revealed their most important discoveries and takeaways.

And with that, the Get Schools Cooking 4th cohort workshop came to a close! The workshop will be followed by district on-site assessments throughout the year, resulting in a report and recommendations for change. During the next several years, districts will engage in strategic planning, technical assistance, and receive a $35,000 systems grant for purchases such as software and equipment. They’ll also participate in yearly evaluations to track their progress.

“I didn’t know how I was going to [change] everything all at once, but to hear about the low hanging fruit, to take baby steps, and how it’s a process, is exciting and it puts my fears to rest.” – Robbin Cross, Franklin Special School District

For a list of all districts in the latest cohort and more information on Get Schools Cooking, click here.


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