The district has been a long-standing customer of Donabedian, which fills a large share of the district’s $5,000 monthly produce budget, Koutroubas said.
“We try to make sure everything we procure is from local sources, which is great,” she said.
But not all of the local food comes from Donabedian. At the high school, a sizable amount of the produce hitting lunch trays is grown right in the schools’ backyard, Ruthy Olney, assistant food services director, said. The on-campus sustainable garden supports a ready supply of heirloom tomatoes, chives, fresh herbs and more, she said.
Olney spent a couple days last week with eight health classes going over food regulations and portion sizes. Together, they celebrated the work of Barker’s Farm in North Andover and Kimball Farm in Westford and talked about the different varieties of apples that exist in New England.
She also treated students to a sampling of native flavors, encouraging them to branch out with tastes of exotic fruits like mango, papaya and star fruit.
“They taste-tested fruit and smelled herbs; tried rosemary, basil and thyme, sage; then they taste-tested native fruits from around here,” Olney said.
Some of the taste-testing even led to proposals for new menu items that could hit the schools in the future, Olney said.
“They gave me a lot of suggestions,” she said. “When we gave them mango, they asked if we can add mango smoothies.”
Life in the school cafeterias returned to normal this week. But that isn’t to say local-sourcing, as Koutroubas calls it, has ended. Koutroubas is a proponent of tapping local sources for whatever is on the menu, even looking to local businesses like Perfecto’s for some baked goods and others for pizza.
“We like to source locally anyway, and the students know that,” Koutroubas said. “We promote that whenever possible.”