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Sharon Kitchens

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse. In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more. Sharon can be contacted at or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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The Root with Sharon Kitchens
Posted: September 2, 2014

Back to school with locally sourced meals and a marinara sauce recipe

Ron Adams with a stove in the central kitchen for Portland Public Schools.

Ron Adams with a stove in the central kitchen for Portland Public Schools.

In honor of students and teachers heading back to school, I’m writing about bringing local foods into the school cafeteria this week.

Hey parents, school lunch is cool again!  Across the country and smack dab in the middle of Portland, Maine the USDA and food heroes like Ron Adams, Director of Food Services Portland Public Schools, are turning school lunch on its head.

“Jamie Oliver’s food revolution is what I had in mind when I got here,” said Adams. “It’s what we are doing.”

Prior to arriving in Portland in 2009, Adams was the Director of the Gorham School Nutrition Program from 1998 to 2009 and the Director of the Yarmouth School Nutrition Program from 1996 to 1998.  Wet met under a large tree at a picnic lunch during a National Farm to Cafeteria/School Conference. He’s been one of my food heroes ever since. I am constantly amazed the level of passion and energy he dedicates to bettering the lunch program for kids in Portland’s public school system.

Last year, I was lucky enough to get Ron to show me around the (then) new central kitchen for Portland Public Schools. The kitchen services the district’s 10 elementary schools, providing 2500 breakfasts and 2000 lunches daily.

Formerly the Portland Shellfish building, the facility was purchased, renovated, and equipped for $3.2 million. That might seem like a lot, until you compare the figure to $6.5 million, which is what it would have cost to purchase and renovate a building not already set up for food processing. Portland’s school district adopted the “central kitchen” model 40 years ago in order to control quality and budget. The cost of putting in 10 different full kitchens would total about $3 million, but the district would never be able to afford the staff and equipment according to Adams.

Portland and Deering High Schools already have fully functioning kitchens, although the new central kitchen provides them with some local foods. “Our big focus of the last three years has been really getting local foods in the elementary menus and as those kids move up the system we are expanding that accessibility to local foods as the kids get older,” he told me.

In 2013, the Portland school district spent 20% of their food dollars on dairy products from the Maine based company Oakhurst Dairy and approximately 12% on local produce and meats. The latter figure translates to around 50,000 pounds of local fruit and vegetables and another 14,000 pounds of fish and meat. Adams would like to see those pound numbers double, and certainly the newly equipped central kitchen is helping. More families buying into the school lunch program will too.

Machine washable lunch trays.

Machine washable lunch trays.

Local Lunch Every Thursday
In an effort to promote the use of local ingredients in school lunches and to encourage kids to eat healthy, the district has committed to every Thursday of the 2013-14 school year being their Buy Local Day.  Multiple items on every school menu will be sourced from the region and the food service department even posted the following announcement/invitation on their website.

***If you want to see more fresh local foods in the school meal programs, please show your support by having your students buy lunch every Thursday!  You can make arrangements to come have lunch with your student through the school office for $4 per visitor.***

Thinking Outside the Box
In addition to sourcing local ingredients from the likes of Snell Family Farm and Maine-ly Poultry, in 2013, Adams purchased 1,000 lbs of zucchini and summer squash and 500 lbs of garlic scapes from Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Program.   He has also, in what could prove to be a creative and lucrative move, arranged to secure donated tomatoes from Good Shepherd Food Bank (GSFB). Food services takes the tomatoes, makes a spaghetti sauce, and turns around and gives GSFB back the sauce to test market at Preble Street and Florence House. With a Farm to School grant, the district purchased bottling equipment to make a jarred tomato sauce that is made with Maine grown products, that is made in Maine and is affordable to send back out to consumers at the pantries. Adams likens this idea to the Newman’s Own model of driving revenues.

Ron was kind enough to share the following recipe with us:

Marinara Sauce Recipe from Portland Public Schools:

2 Tbsp & ¼ tsp Canola Oil
10 ½ ozs Yellow Onion diced ¼ “
3 1/8 ozs Garlic, raw
½ Tbsp Basil leaves, dried
½ Tbsp Oregano leaves, dried
¾ tsp Thyme leaves, dried
1 lb & 2 ¾ ozs Summer squash, zucchini
5 ¼ ozs Carrots, raw
13 ozs Beets, raw and peeled
10 lbs & 2 ozs Tomatoes
2 ¾ tsp Salt
¼ tsp Black Pepper (ground)

Wash hands before beginning
Cook onions in oil till clear
Add garlic and spices
Add zucchini, beets and carrots
When cooked through, puree with immersion blender
Add tomato
Bring to a boil, puree with immersion blender
Reduce to 24 gallons
Adjust to taste

Cool to 70 within 2 hours and from 70 to 41 or lower within an additional 4 hours.

Number of portions: 24

Size of portion: 4 oz

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