Imagine a fresh strawberry plucked from your home garden. A ripe tomato from your yard. Fresh fruits and veggies are tastiest just after they’re harvested ripe. – And if you grew them yourself, they’re even tastier! Maybe it’s the taste of love? Or pride? Or effort? But there’s something about the flavor of food you’ve helped grow that puts it head and shoulders above the rest.

Don’t you wish every kid could experience the sweet squirt of a freshly picked cherry tomato, or the hearty crunch of just-picked greens? Schools are a great place for this to happen, yet the mechanics of getting school garden grown produce into the cafeteria safely and efficiently can be a little tricky. So much so, in fact, that most school districts simply don’t allow it.  

Our new Garden to Cafeteria Toolkit!

Thankfully, we now have a Garden to Cafeteria toolkit! In partnership with Common Threads, Bellingham Public Schools is one of three school districts across the country currently participating in a Garden to Cafeteria pilot project supported by Slow Food USA and the Whole Kids Foundation. The pilot aims to develop and test protocol to allow garden grown produce to be regularly and safely enjoyed by kids as part of their school lunch program. 

On April 20th, Andrew Nowak, of Slow Food USA made a second trip to Bellingham (his first was last fall) to participate in our first official garden to cafeteria harvest using the new toolkit protocol. This harvest and the district’s new protocol signal a growing willingness to support school garden grown food in the cafeteria as a way to help kids build lifelong healthy eating habits. On hand to give an enthusiastic thumbs up were Patrick Durgan, the District’s Executive Chef; Jessica Sankey, the District’s Wellness Director; and Katie Stanford of the Whatcom County Health Department. As Katie Stanford observed, “This IS community health”! 

Andrew Nowak of Slow Food USA harvesting kale with Whatcom Middle School students

On April 26th, Common Threads’ Executive Director, Laura Plaut, joined Patrick Durgan, Andrew Nowak, and Tristana Pirkl of the Whole Kids Foundation (the generous funder of the Garden to Cafeteria Toolkit, as well as of school gardens across the country – including all of ours here in Whatcom County!) to share the toolkit with a packed room of over 75 curious school gardeners and school food service directors at the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio – all eager to figure out how to establish similar protocol in their own districts.  

Chef Patrick and Whatcom Middle School Food Services lead Marjorie Kimmel with the school garden grown kale salad headed to the cafeteria salad bar!


Someday, Garden to Cafeteria protocol will be standard issue for all school food service programs – in the realm of what we like to call “boringly normal.” For now, we’re glad that the precedent that we are helping to set here in Bellingham is playing a small but important role in a much larger healthy school food revolution.

View the toolkit here 

Photos and Toolkit courtesy of Bellingham Public Schools.



Harvesting fresh greens for the Whatcom Middle School cafeteria


Fresh, tasty school garden grown salad!


Healthy food, happy kids!