Focus on Agriculture:

Maureen Harkcom: Cinnamon rolls and chili? A lunch break at Mossyrock schools


After recently highlighting the Boistfort School lunch program, I  made a second school visit, this time to the Mossyrock School District.

I spent some time with Kim Chambers, their food services director, and met her staff, including the head cook and assistants.

We chatted while she prepped and stirred together a big batch of tuna casserole.

Chambers has quite a background in the food industry. She started out washing dishes in a nursing home, moved into dietary management and then into sales for a large chicken producer.

Her next career was in brokerage, working with chefs and culinary manufacturers, during which time she attended a number of food industry schools.

She and her husband then operated a food equipment business but had to shut it down due to COVID-19 restrictions. She found herself substituting in the Mossyrock School District kitchen until she was hired as director.

In her role, she is responsible for purchasing food, designing menus that meet the required nutritional standards and coordinating all the staff — everything it takes to get meals served to 625 students.

She said she knows probably 400 of them and said, “I love my kids.” From somewhere else in the kitchen came a voice: “She sure does”.

Chambers says Mossyrock can do better — they have just scratched the surface with the Farm to School program.

She sources her foodstuffs through the Southwest Washington Food Hub and uses local farmers, including Olde Achers Farm, PanAmerican Berry Growers, Aldrich Blueberry Farm, Broken Shovel Kiwi Farm and Bear Ridge Smokehouse. She might have rattled off a couple others that I was not quick enough to get written down. 

She believes serving local supports local. There is that school, community and agriculture connection again.

Food grown in our own backyards gives us that top nutritional value and flavor whether served fresh or having been canned or frozen for out of season use.

One of the challenges of scratch cooking is the labor of breaking foods down. Starting with a butternut squash is more labor than handling ready-to-serve squash.

The Olympia food service director used to have a program where the school used its equipment for students to learn and then provided partially prepared food, such as diced or coin-cut carrots and beets and mirepoix, but the program ceased.

Chambers hopes the new director will get it going again as it was a good alternative, especially for smaller school districts. 

She said Mossyrock is about 50/50 heated and scratch and serve cooking. She tries new recipes but finds the students do not like change. Mossyrock is a meat and potatoes kind of community and they want their hamburgers, corn dogs, chicken nuggets and the like, she said.

A typical day finds about 200 breakfasts and 400 lunches being served. Community members are welcome to come eat at school as well, although few take the opportunity.

I don’t know where else you can get a $3 breakfast or a $5 lunch. Seems to me it would be a good deal for a senior citizen who volunteers at the school to sit and eat with the kids and spend a little more time with them outside of the classroom and maybe encourage that student to try something new.

For that matter, anyone could go buy a meal and eat with students to just show them that the community cares.

Speaking of new, Chambers said three days per week her staff delivers “snack packs” to the elementary students. They use products they get for free through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Free Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program.

She uses it to expose kids to new things and get them to try them — nobody is forced, but those who try, and like it, maybe influence others to at least try something new, whether it be purple carrots, cactus leaf, star fruit, dragon fruit or kumquats.

Chambers said it takes eight to nine tries before a new food becomes a “yum.”

She said the school board is mainly concerned with the nutrition of the students and the desires of the community. She said it is important for parents to encourage their children to eat at school, and there is no reason not to as the entire district qualifies for every student to receive free breakfast and lunch.

Participation (kids eating) means more funding, which would mean being able to hire more staff to do more scratch cooking sourced from local farms. Chambers and her staff try to make foods the students like and will eat.

Bottom line, they are constantly learning.

I was impressed with the focus and dedication of the staff as they moved about the kitchen — each with their own specialty or area of responsibility while still keeping an eye out for each other in case someone needed a little extra something.

I did get invited back to have lunch in a couple weeks — the favorite menu item of the year, now and historically. Chambers said you can ask any student, or any alumni, what their favorite lunch is and they will all tell you cinnamon rolls and chili.

This was a shocker to me. Never would have thought of that combination, and she said they actually dip the rolls into the chili. What the heck?

Those two things just don’t even go in the same meal in my mind.

Chambers said it is a big thing in the midwest — and Mossyrock.

I guess I am going back out to Mossyrock in a couple weeks to give it a try. She thinks the kids are stuck in their ways foodwise — wait until I try the “Mossyrock Special.”

I will try to go in with an open mind, but admittedly I have my reservations.


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