Students and their families returned to school a bit early this week for the fourth annual Farm to Family Feast, but instead of doing schoolwork they enjoyed a hearty meal courtesy of Turlock Unified School District.
The luncheon was originally created in 2015 as a way to not only kick off the New Year with a nutritious meal, but to also ensure the TUSD community has the chance to celebrate the ongoing success of the District Farm. Each year the feast switches school sites, and on Wednesday both Crowell and Cunningham elementary schools served a meal of tri tip, mashed potatoes and gravy, salad and rolls courtesy of the TUSD Child Nutrition program and donations from several businesses.
According to Crowell principal Margaret Osmer, the ultimate goal of the Farm to Family Feast is to one day provide a meal which comes entirely from the District Farm.
“This lunch originated with the District Farm and us hoping to bring some of the products that we’re growing out there here for the meal,” she said. “We’re getting to that point with it, and every year gets better.”
TUSD Coordinator of Applied Horticulture and Environmental Studies Laura Brem, who oversees activities on the District Farm, said that day could come as soon as next year.
“The goal is by next year we will be able to utilize more from the farm going straight into the feast,” Brem said. “By spring of this year, we will already have some things from the farm going out to our school sites.”
While nothing from Wednesday’s meal was from the District Farm, succulent centerpieces on each table were grown out at the Taylor Road facility. Parent Hormoz Shaheazi brought his son Daniel, who is in preschool at Crowell, to the event and was both thankful and impressed, he said.
“The food is so good, and I can’t believe it’s free. Normally a school would charge for something like this,” he said. “It’s good for the parents to be able to come to the school and join in things like this.”
Community outreach is incredibly important to both TUSD and each individual school site, Osmer said, and Wednesday’s guests were also treated to a photo area complete with props and a bike raffle at Crowell. At Cunningham, attendees were able to participate in a petting zoo and get up close and personal with equipment from Garton Tractor.
“It’s very touching to see families come to the school with no pressure,” Osmer said. “We like to be a safe place for families to come and know our schools are theirs.”
While there weren’t enough fruits, veggies or other foods harvested from the District Farm in time for the Farm to Family Feast, there’s still plenty of progress being made. Work is being done on the farm’s large animal facility, where animals like cows will stay prior to being shown at the fair, as well as on the new, state-of-the-art swine facility which will house students’ hogs.
The swine barn will include a waste separator and pump, a pressure washer and self-operating eave inlet vents, all of which are industry standard.
A fencing project for the farm will also begin in the next month, Brem added, which will provide new iron fencing, an entry gate and a 15-foot entry structure complete with “TUSD Farm” signage. All facility improvements will be completed by February.
“We want to have a facility that kids can be proud of and utilize, and a place where younger students can come out and see what a real farm looks like,” Brem said.
Seeds are already being planted for the upcoming crop, and field trips for TUSD schools are being planned for springtime.
“It’s an exciting time at the farm, even more this year than in past years,” Brem said. “This year’s Farm to Family Feast was a big win for us.”
“This year’s turnout was the biggest yet,” Osmer said. “A lot of times during the holidays some of our families don’t have hot meals, and this gives us the opportunity to provide something warm for them during the long winter break.”