CONCRETE, Washington — Over the past several weeks, children and families in the Concrete School District have had a chance to enjoy blueberry pancakes, broccoli mac ‘n’ cheese and homemade ramen — without even a trip to the grocery store.
About this time of year, Concrete Elementary School students would be learning to cook similar recipes in the school’s Farm to School kitchen, said Rachel Muir, program coordinator for the Concrete Farm to School Program.
“We’ve known all along that if the kids take part in preparing (a meal), they’re more likely to try it,” Muir said.
This year, however, is different. Because of the global COVID-19 pandemic that led to a statewide closure of school buildings, students are missing out on their normal school activities, including Farm to School.
Concrete Elementary’s program partners the district with local farms and United General Hospital District 304 to provide fresh produce for school lunches, as well as to encourage students to learn more about fresh food.
“It’s what we’re in the business of doing is teaching the kids how to eat,” Muir said. “Farm to School is all about connecting these kids with the source of their food and then empowering them to feed themselves.”
With that mission in mind, Muir’s team, as well as the district’s transportation and food services teams, have been hard at work bringing Farm to School to students’ kitchen tables.
While the district already provided daily breakfasts and lunches for most of its students via its school buses, on Fridays families who have signed up to participate receive something a little extra: a recipe kit from the Farm to School program that includes all the ingredients, including the fresh fruits and veggies, needed to make a meal. The produce comes largely from local farmers.
“We know the importance of the family dinner and of families getting together around food,” Muir said. “In this crisis, when families are all stuck at home together, it just seemed to make sense to help them dig into family meals.”
So far, nearly 100 families have signed up for the free weekly recipe kits, Muir said.
“It was really cool to send that home and have parents be involved with Farm to School for the first time in that way,” she said. “We are seeing these parents getting involved and getting to see their kids get involved.”
With each recipe kit, Muir also records a video from her own kitchen with step-by-step instructions on how to make the recipe.
Concrete School District Superintendent Wayne Barrett said the program was a welcome way to get more food to its families, especially during the pandemic.
Under normal circumstances, about 80% of his district’s students meet the federal qualifications to receive free and reduced lunches, he said. Because of its high poverty level, the district also qualifies through the federal government to have every student receive free breakfast daily.
The district is currently distributing more than 3,200 meals per week for its students — a number that has grown since the mid-March school closure, Barrett said.
“We know there are families out there that don’t have a lot, especially during this time,” he said. “(The recipe kits) give us one more opportunity to reach out to the families in our community.”
They also provide an opportunity to get hands-on lessons to kids during this era of “distance-learning,” Barrett said.
“It provides one more additional meal for our families, but it also gives them that time with their families to have an activity that they do together,” he said.