Focus on Agriculture: Boistfort School provides blueprint for healthy, local food for students


In my most recent column, I talked about the Farm to School program and my belief that it is a great way to get more appetizing and nutritious meals for students.

It is a benefit to our children. Parents need to demand that their schools do a better job of feeding children. The program is a benefit to entire communities. It provides better food for kids and better connections between everyone and the farmers in their communities.

Only a few schools in Lewis County take advantage of the program.

One of them is Boistfort School, a kindergarten through eighth grade school of approximately 90 students. I recently took the opportunity to go there and spend some time with their food service director, who is in her second year on the job. Either someone knew what they were doing when they hired her, or they luckily stumbled onto a real gem. Julia Richfield is an energetic, dynamic young woman. Since getting the job, she has been slowly incorporating local foods.

She said she worked in the food industry in her younger years (she still looks fairly young to me) and she is passionate about cooking at home. She said the district hired her based on her personality. She introduced cooking from scratch.

Her inspiration came from her mom, a fantastic cook who prepared simple foods. Simple and fresh equals quality in her mind. She doesn’t do anything fancy. Her belief is that better ingredients make a dish better. One of the plus sides of her job is the ability to be flexible and figure out what will be good. She said she is very aware of how good she has it as the cook for Boistfort. I personally think Boistfort has it very good for having her.

She has taken advantage of Washington state Department of Agriculture and Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction grants to purchase foods grown in Washington, trying to get as much as possible from Lewis and Thurston counties.

She has used the grant funds to try new products on her audience, as the additional money allows her to do that. It allows her to find farmers to source ingredients from. Hopefully, she will be able to continue a relationship with them when the extra money is no longer available.

She said the Boistfort School Board and administration has been “super supportive” and makes sound choices. They care about the local farms in the valley and the health of their students.

Richfield felt it was no more costly than processed meals. She finds the biggest challenge is using what is in season and not having freezer space to store for out-of-season products for use.

She uses the South Sound Food Hub to source products locally and gets items from Roots and Fruits out of Winlock and Wobbly Cart Farm in Rochester. She has also been able to get ground beef from Colvin Ranch near Tenino, along with some local honey. While we talked, Richfield crumbled ground beef she had oven-browned using a technique she learned at a Farm to School Road Show that helps schools and farmers network together and brings in chefs to share ideas. She proceeded to prepare a sauce, to which she added the meat to become the main course of the lunch for that day.

Richfield talked about the fact that scratch cooking takes more preparation time than the “heat and serve” used by most schools. She is a “one-woman show,” so she preps, serves and cleans up for both breakfast and lunch for the approximately 70 students who eat every day, with an additional 10 eating three days a week when preschool is held.  She said it is also an emotional challenge to cook this way as there is some fear in cooking raw meat for the students who she sees as “the most delicate and precious, who deserve the best.”

She feels it is important to expose students to food they may not have otherwise. She never knows what they will, or will not, like. But she gets them to try it. She was able to get fresh salmon using the Farm to School program and found the kids like teriyaki salmon better than “just baked.”

The rewards? Richfield said it is seeing students enjoying healthy food. And, for her, she gets a serotonin boost when she tries something new and it is successful. There is always the risk the students will be unhappy. Sometimes, the students’ reactions are puzzling because it is not the same, not what they are used to, but, with time, they learn to appreciate it, and the acceptance is better. Another plus of scratch cooking is that it has fewer calories and less sodium and sugar than “heat and serve.” Julia said parents need to speak out and let their school boards know how important it is to them that quality meals be prepared at their schools. She enjoys being able to support local farms and feels it is important to buy locally. She knows farming is a challenge and she wants to support local farms. Those of us in agriculture thank her.

Maureen Harkcom is president of the Lewis County Farm Bureau. She can be reached at