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Novato Schools Gleaning Program

Healthy, local, seasonal, sustainable and organic food for all students

Novato Unified School District serves 4500 breakfast and lunch meals each day.  Students are offered locally grown fresh organic produce as a component of their meals during the height of harvest.  The  school food service program spends an average of  $2,000 per week on either organic and non-organic fresh produce or approximately 20% of the total food cost.  How much organic produce is purchased depends on availability and the season.   In effort to offset the increasing costs in produce, the FANS department has developed a relationship with a local organic farm cooperative called the Marin Organic.

The relationship began in 2005  when Miguel was looking for a way to leverage the bounty of the local organic fields in the school kitchens by establishing a connection with local farmers. Meanwhile, Marin Organic, which to that point had not tapped the commercial market, saw an opportunity to promote its farmers and  organic foods program. Marin Organic was  trying to reach into a different market and they saw what a good resource the schools could be for organic 

Marin Organic made a major commitment to schools by going into the distribution business, purchasing a delivery truck that picks produce up from the several dozen different participating farms and delivers to the central kitchens preparing meals for the schools in Novato and other Marin County Schools and food establishments. 

Locally, grown organic produce is more expensive than bulk purchases from traditional produce suppliers, but Marin Organic remains competitive in the bidding because of a special service it is willing to render, the gleaning program.   After each harvest, the cooperative sends volunteers made up of parents, students and other community representatives to glean member fields every Monday from 4:00 – 6:00.  The gleaners gather the product that was not picked because it fails to meet the aesthetic requirements of traditional customers, even though it is perfectly edible.   

The organic produce that is gleaned from the fields is provided to the schools free with a  nominal small charge for delivery.  The gleaned produce helps defray the cost of the organic produce products that is otherwise purchased from local, organic farms.     
There are many benefits associated with the Marin Organic gleaning program:

  • Families learn about location of organic farms
  • Educational opportunity for families
  • Students learn all about how food is grown
  • Gleaned produce is offered to students at school
  • Families can meet and talk with the farmer
  • Gleaning also helps local farmers
  • Gleaned produce reduces cost to Novato schools
  • Farmers are very knowledgeable about their crops, farming techniques, and agriculture history providing an educational opportunity.   
  • Food and Nutritional Services can purchase greater volumes of organic products which support local farmers
  • Sustains rural heritage and lifestyles practices that are good  for the environment
  • Organic produce is picked weekly at the peak of ripeness.  
  • rganic produce travels less than 20 miles to get from the field to the school
  • Organic produce contains no chemical, physical, or biological hazards.

Click here for more information on How to Start Farm to School Gleaning Program.

Miguel Villarreal

Miguel Villarrea's experience spans in School Food Service spans back to the early 80’s.  He has worked in as a Food Service Director in both Texas and California public schools.  Throughout that time, he has developed and implemented innovative strategies for improving children’s nutritional health.  Joining the Novato Unified School District in 2002, Miguel has made tremendous strides in “Creating Total School Nutrition and Wellness Environments” for students in Novato.   He has modified schools menus by offering more nutritious, whole food choices and phased out high processed “junk food” that is high in either sugar or fats, even with the demanding budget constraints on the school food service programs. 

An advocate of locally grown and organic foods, Miguel also collaborates with the Marin Organic to promote Farm to School programs bringing health and nutritional awareness to the schools and community.  He has helped introduce and connect many students and their families to gleaning at local organic farms.  Gleaning allows families to visit local organic farms and harvest produce that is given to school food service programs and other community kitchens that would otherwise be tilled under the soil.      

Miguel has reached out to classroom teachers by including Harvest of Month educational messages on the school lunch menus.  He has also provided each elementary school with Portable Nutrition Wellness Kits that are designed to be used in the classroom.   These portable kits contain kitchen essentials that can be used for hands on experiential learning in the classrooms.  The kits were developed in collaboration with Miguel and teachers for teachers.    

Miguel also serves as the District Wellness Coordinator where he collaborates with  numerous groups consisting of students,   parents, teachers, school administrators and allied organizations in the community to create systems that  educate and connect the 3 C’s, cafeteria, classroom and community. 

Miguel Villarreal holds a Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition from the University of North Texas and Masters in Business Administration from East Texas State University.   His school food service program has been featured in various state and national publications and journals.  He has presented in many forums that have included School District Boards Officials, City Elected Officials, School Administrators, School Food Service Directors, Parent organizations, Agriculture Officials and farmers, State and National Legislative Officials, Health and Wellness Professionals, Non-profit foundations and Youth Leadership.  He is an active member of National, State, and local organizations, committees and nutritional wellness collaborative focused on educating and improving student’s well being. He recently served as the Public Policy and Legislative Chair for the California School Nutrition Association advocating at the state and national level for better school nutrition programs.  Miguel and Marilyn Briggs Past President of CSNA had an opportunity to meet in White House West Wing in 2010 with members of the White House staff to discuss nutrition and wellness initiatives promoted by the First Lady, Michelle Obama.