PE ELL — Farmers, county officials and state leaders, including Washington’s First Lady Trudi Inslee, had lunch with students Wednesday at the Pe Ell School.

For Taste of Washington Day, the district partnered with the Washington School Nutrition Association, Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network and the Washington State Department of Agriculture to host the lunch, which kicked off farm-to-school month in October.

“We wanted to show people how easy it is to be part of that sustainable process,” Inslee said. “We’re really glad this school is an example. The farm-to-table concept is something we’d like to have schools across the state replicate.”

Tricia Kovacs, of the state Department of Agriculture, said the organizers aim to encourage schools to partner with local farmers, in addition to promoting healthier meals and education about the state’s agricultural heritage.

“It encourages the kids,” Kovacs said. “They see a farmer as a celebrity.”

Kovacs said the groups chose to celebrate local farmers and school food service workers this year in Pe Ell because it is an agricultural area and the school is already promoting sustainable meal practices.

The Pe Ell School participates year-round in a farm-to-school lunch program that promotes locally-sourced meals for students. Superintendent Kyle MacDonald credits Pe Ell Food Service Director Melissa “Missie” Holmes for getting the school involved in the program.

Holmes fed the dignitaries — including Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, and Lewis County Commissioner Bill Schulte — a barbecue chicken meal cooked from scratch using local products.

Wednesday's menu featured Darigold milk from Blaser Brothers Midway Dairy and fruits from Jeremy's Market in Chehalis, as well as vegetables from Boistfort Valley Farm.

“It’s awesome. We really like to engage, especially with the kids,” said Mike Peroni, of the Boistfort Valley Farm. “There’s a lot of food that drives past our farm to these schools.”

To provide more healthy, locally-sourced school meals, Peroni and Holmes have been working together. Holmes even encouraged students to get involved during the lunch.

Pe Ell sophomore Justin Brown dressed up like a carrot while his classmate Logen Elliott donned a pear costume for the event.

“I’m making sure the kids are having a wonderful time and keeping them under control so Mrs. Inslee thinks we’re the best school ever,” Brown said.

The Pe Ell School held a drawing in which one student from each elementary grade won the chance to sit with Inslee for the Washington-grown meal. Inslee signed autographs and visited with the students.

“Fresh, whole foods in schools is important,” said Schulte, whose grandson, Jacob Zipperer, represented the fourth-grade class at Inslee’s table.

Braun said supporting the farm-to-school program in the state budget would remain a top priority.

“It’s a good investment,” he said.

Fresh food in schools is a project of the Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network. Executive Director Ellen Gray said the organization is now working with 20 school districts, including Pe Ell, to increase locally-grown meals for students. Gray said some farmers are now planting crops specifically to meet the needs of schools.

“It’s great for kids and farmers,” she said. “We’ve got to keep these farmers farming.”

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Amy Nile: (360) 807-8235

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