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Dungeness Valley farmers hope to feed Sequim schoolkids

SEQUIM -- The unjust thing, to Kia Kozun, is that it's harvest time in the rich Dungeness Valley, and school is about to start -- yet school children will be eating food from outside the North Olympic Peninsula.

With classes starting Sept. 6 and 40 percent of Sequim students receiving free or reduced-price meals at school, Nash's Organic Produce marketing manager Kozun and Sequim School District superintendent Garn Christensen have food on their minds.

They're thinking about putting locally grown produce onto kids' plates, and Kozun hopes that food will be not only nutritious but also organically grown.

Idea growing in state

In Washington state, the farm-to-cafeteria concept is only beginning to take hold, but it seems people are hungry for locally grown produce.

When the Olympia School District introduced an organic salad bar at its Lincoln Elementary School, cafeteria staff said ``children's eyes were lighting up,'' and the organic foods ``smelled fresher, were more colorful, and had more distinct flavors,'' noted the state Department of Agriculture Web site, http:/agr.wa.gov.

The salad bar featured fruit, vegetables, whole-grain breads and organic soy milk.

The cafeteria also offered cow's milk and fruit juices.

A Lincoln Elementary parent, Vanessa Ruddy, started the movement by bringing other community members together with school administrators.

That's what Kozun sees happening here.

``I want parents to call me with ideas,'' she said. ``We need to get together and start brainstorming.

``And parents can call the school district and say, `Hey, I would be willing to pay more for my kid's school lunch,' or `I'm willing to donate to support lunches for other kids whose parents can't afford it.'''

Expense and safety

Organic food is much more expensive than the Sodexho meals provided for children on the free-or-reduced program.

Breakfasts, according to superintendent Christensen, cost 95 cents to $1.10, while lunches are $1.70 to $1.90.

``There's a large price discrepancy we're dealing with,'' Kozun acknowledged.

Yet she believes the cost obstacle can be overcome, and Christensen agrees.

``We're looking at what other districts are doing,'' he said.

But food safety is as big a concern as price. Sodexho's suppliers use kitchens, of course, that meet federal requirements for cleanliness.

Kozun said Nash's uses a certified kitchen for catering jobs, and would not have trouble providing school-cafeteria foods that meet safety requirements.

``The Dungeness Valley has some of the most fertile soil in the country,'' Kozun added. ``We're doing our kids a disservice by feeding them food from elsewhere.''