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SLO students get farm-to-table experience in school cafeteria

Posted at 7:45 AM, Oct 04, 2019

Farm to table dinners are trendy and often expensive but some San Luis Obispo students are digging in to the wholesome meal at school lunch thanks to a partnership that benefits not only students but local farmers.

Slow Money SLO is teaming up with San Luis Coastal Unified School District to enhance the quality of school lunch for students and the flow of business for local farmers. That relationship is being highlighted Saturday at a farm to table dinner called Bounty of the Harvest.

For Erin Primer, the district's food service director, the connection to local produce and protein is exciting and nutritious for students.

"We get creative with recipes that we create and come up with so it's more exciting to try," Primer said. "With chocolate hummus, that's one we've sold out of every time we put it on the menu."

Kids can also select muffins from Edna's bakery, Los Osos watermelon and California-grown avocados.

"Kids know what good food tastes like," Primer said.

Local herbs and produce have been available to student since the start of wellness initiatives created in 2017. But once Primer connected with Slow Money Founder Jeff Wade at a networking event, the program took off.

Slow Money has helped about 25 small farms secure $1.2 million in loans over the past seven years, according to Wade.

The loans have allowed small farming organizations to secure equipment needed for production and growth.

"Every time I meet a new farmer, I find out new challenges they face," Wade said.

Family farms often struggle to compete with big corporate farms, Wade said, and this partnership with San Luis Obispo schools is just one way to give the underdogs a fighting chance.

"They get most of their sales through farmers markets but we feel that adding this other type of buyer, the school buyer, will give them a little more stability," Wade said.

Through this network, local farmers find steady customers and San Luis Obispo students are served fresh local meals. Wade and Primer call it a win win.

"It's good for our community," Primer said. "Local dollars stay in our local community when we make these purchases. a lot of farmers have students in our district, so it makes a lot of sense for us to keep that money in San Luis Obispo county."

The Bounty of the Harvest dinner, which takes place at Tiber Ranch on Saturday evening, will feature produce and proteins from many of the same local farmers featured in San Luis Obispo school lunches.