The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

How Berkeley Schools Source Their Food

May 14th, 2010 · 1 Comment · Posted in Berkeley, kids, school food, Sustainability

Dede Samson, sous chef for procurement

Dede Sampson, procurement sous chef

Until five years ago, all of the food served to children in Berkeley, CA, schools was highly processed. One of the primary goals of the initiative to improve Berkeley school food was to eliminate processed foods and switch to meals cooked from scratch using fresh ingredients, including local and organic produce to the greatest extent possible.

After Berkeley approved its new food initiative, the schools approached their main suppliers with new criteria for what the schools would be serving. Vendors were called and given 90 days to respond.  Those that could not meet the revamped requirements were dropped in favor of new vendors.

The Berkeley school district sources some of its new foods through a collective of small companies that share a kitchen in San Francisco as part of an economic development incubator. FullBloom Baking Company, located 30 miles from Berkeley in Newark, CA, bills itself as “natural and organic.” It now helps develop baked goods for both breakfast and lunch in Berkeley schools.

Grass-fed hot dogs and hamburgers come from Hearst Ranch, a legacy of the William Randolph Hearst newspaper fortune on a huge spread of land on the Pacific originally purchased in 1865 at San Simeon, where the newspaper magnate built his famous castle. Hearst Ranch produces what it calls “free-range, sustainable grass-fed beef” from Hereford, Angus and Shorthorn cattle that roam 150,000 acres of rolling pastures off the coast highway, as well as ranchland in Central California. 

According to the company’s website, its hot dogs contain “no nitrates, nitrites or other artificial ingredients.”

One of three positions created in the school system’s central kitchen after Ann Cooper was hired to make the big switch was that of a sous chef responsible for sourcing food. Davita Sampson, known around the central kitchen as “Dede” (pronounced Dee-dee) currently fills that roll. I didn’t see much of Dede the week I was working in the kitchen because she also plays substitute when there’s a need at one of the district’s other 15 schools.

Prior to hiring on with Berkeley schools, Sampson was the pastry assistant at Oliveto, an Oakland restaurant committed to local, seasonal food, and before that kitchen manager at Indian Peach Food Company in Point Reyes, CA, where local oganic food was  a priority and a standard. Sampson said she’s had numerous other kitchen jobs, and at one point was the produce manager at a Whole Foods in Pittsburgh. Berkeley certainly is a long ways from Pittsburgh.

“I helped start the first Eat Local Challenge and the Locavore Bay Area movement in 2005,” Sampson said. “I brought my passion and
commitment to local food to the Berkeley school district in August 2006.”

I asked Sampson for a roundup of the local businesses and products the Berkeley Unified School District uses in its school meals. This is how she replied:

Bread Project. A local bakery. We buy muffins and breakfast burritos.

Bread Workshop. A local bakery. We buy banana and pumpkin bread, croutons.

Clif Bar. Snack program items.

Food 4 Thought. Fruit.

Full Belly Farm. Produce.

FullBloom Baking Company. Muffins, pizza crusts, other baked items.

Greenleaf Produce. Produce.

Hearst Ranch. Grassfed burgers and hotdogs.

Manhattan Bagel. Local whole wheat bagels.

Massa Organics. Brown rice.

Numi Tea. Tea for Lunch service.

Organic Valley co-0p. Milk.

OrganicVille foods. Salad dressing.

Riverdog Farm. Produce.

Stonehouse California Olive Oil. Olive oil.

Veritable Vegetable. Produce.

Vital Vittles. Baked goods.

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  • cbh

    loved the series Ed! very cool to get an honest, comprehensive report on an incredible set-up. thx for your commitment and effort. will you be requiring hair nets in your DC cooking classes now ? 😉