Santa Cruz City Schools Food Service

Santa Cruz City Schools is composed of 7,000 students in 13 schools. Four elementary, three middle schools, and four high schools serving 790 breakfasts, 1,600 lunches, and 100 snacks per day. 39% of the district’s student population is eligible for free or reduced price meals and three schools have 50% or more of their students eligible for free or reduced price meals. The district food service runs catering and a summer feeding program that served 7,000 summer meals.

Santa Cruz City Schools Food Service (SCCSFS) is managed by Food Service Director Jamie Smith. In 2009 Jamie was hired by the district under the recommendation of the wellness committee. The wellness committee was interested in a dramatic change in school food and in his first year Jamie converted operations to include more scratch cooking and locally sourced produce.

Santa Cruz City Schools has a progressive wellness policy that is geared towards purchasing locally grown produce and providing garden-enhanced nutrition education.

Menu Planning

SCCSFS employs a traditional food-based menu plan and has a 5 week cycle. Their menu allows for occasional changes due to seasonal availability of produce. SCCSFS utilizes “offer vs. serve”. Salad bars are offered in all four elementary schools and two of the middle schools. Jamie notes that these bars help increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. Each day three to seven vegetables and about three fruits are offered at the salad bars. Themed salad bars, served with an entrée are offered, such as: taco salad bar, nacho salad bar, and deli sandwich day. SCCSFS follows a Harvest of the Month program and produce from each month is featured on menus. Additionally Jamie offers seasonal, “kid friendly” options such as apples, kiwis, spinach, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, and strawberries. Fresh fruit and vegetables are offered a la carte in all schools.

Sourcing and Buying

Jamie utilizes entitlement dollars to his fullest potential purchasing canned produce, dairy, grains, meat, and legumes. Additionally he has purchased fresh produce from the DOD Fresh Program and estimates that about three percent of his produce comes via entitlement.

Jamie estimates that 40% of his produce is purchased from ALBA a locally sourced/organic grower collaborative. 10% comes direct from farmers and the remaining 50% is sourced from a broad-liner. Santa Cruz City School’s wellness policy suggests that local produce be purchased within a 75 mile radius. Purchasing from ALBA and local growers allows Jamie to purchase 50% of his produce from within a 75 mile radius. Regional produce is defined as California grown. Direct communication with growers and ALBA often allows for reasonably priced organic product.

Production and Serving

Forty percent of the food served at SCCSFS is produced centrally and distributed to school sites and one third of the school sites do all the meal preparation on site. When cooking vegetables stir frying and steaming are the preferred methods. When serving fresh fruits about half are served whole, while the others are cut. All fruits are served raw. Most fresh vegetables are served cut and about half the time they are served cooked.

Jamie is trained as a chef and he creates most of his recipes when cooking from scratch. The purchase of a combi-oven and blast chiller have greatly increased the ability for scratch cooking to take place in the central kitchen, be cooled to a safe level, and packed out. SCCSFS practices “stealth health”, incorporating fruits and vegetables in menu items to adding fiber and vegetables while sweetening, coloring, fortifying a menu item. Giant hand held immersion blenders are a great tools used to incorporate vegetable matter in many items.

SCCSFS has adequate space to serve fresh fruits and vegetables but more immersion blenders and continuous feed chopper machines would greatly add to their ability to cook from scratch.

Promotion and Marketing

Healthy, locally sourced foods and Harvest of the Month are promoted via the web, menus, newsletters, the radio, and back to school nights. Teachers have been recruited as “tasters” and school food festivals have been ran to promote the concept of healthy school food to the community and parents. In the near future farmer profile trading cards will be available to promote the local foods served in cafeterias. In the 2011-2012 school year the school food program will be rebranded as “Surf City Café” and a year long menu will be released that promotes seasonal offerings.

Farm to School

SCCSFS is an exemplary model of farm to school. The food service is able to purchase large amounts of their produce from local farms. Other community partners and the two Network for a Healthy California garden-enhanced nutrition educators lend to the movement. All elementary schools (4) in the district have paid garden coordinators which are funded as part of an educational parcel tax.  The middle and high schools are working on garden plans as well. The Santa Cruz Education Foundation helps raise money for school gardens. Life Lab offers farm-based field trip programs and runs the FoodWhat youth program which hosts two farm events and afterschool internships for teens. The Community Alliance with Family Farmers runs its own farm to school program which offers Harvest of the Month tasting baskets, farmer visits, and farm field trips for teachers that arrange them. UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems and the local food bank run the Central Coast School Food Alliance which brings area food service directors together for networking and betterment.


There is a strong community of farm to school activity in Santa Cruz City Schools. The Santa Cruz City Schools wellness policy has direct mandates for farm to school type programming to thrive in the district. School food service is able and willing to purchase and serve local produce and a large network of support organizations help to educate students in the classroom and gardens. Having a food service director that is a chef that likes to cook local produce from scratch doesn’t hurt either.