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With so many Connecticut parents feeding their kids more fresh, local, and organic foods, why does changing the "pizza and nuggets" meal culture in the public schools feel like pushing a boulder uphill? No one grapples with that issue more often than John Turenne, president and founder of Sustainable Food Systems, LLC in Wallingford: an organization fighting to bring fresh and healthy native foods into schools and institutions for the past 11 years.

Photo Sarah Lehberger

Since 2015, Sustainable Food Systems has turned around the dining services at public schools in Fairfield, Litchfield, Monroe, and New Haven, as well as at Connecticut universities including Yale and UConn (plus other top universities and organizations nationally). At Fairfield’s Unquowa School, one of Turenne’s first clients, the kitchen now uses local products in every season. “Whether it’s the sorrel from the school’s own gardens in the spring, or the ground beef and Farmer’s Cow Milk year-round,” Turenne says, “the students have come to understand the stories behind their food.”

School Food Revolutionary John Turenne “Working together. if schools pool their purchasing power and commit to supporting farms (think a csa on steroids), there may be opportunity to increase farmland, employers, and production around the region”

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CT Food & Farm / Summer 2016

Instead of dishing up reheated frozen pizza, Unquowa has turned its "Gator Gravy" (Gator being the school mascot, and "gravy" being a twist on tomato sauce) into a highlight. Turenne explains: “Every year, just before the school starts, 'Chef David' purchases hundreds of pounds of organic tomato seconds from Sport Hill Farm in Easton, just up the road. Then, he processes and preserves hundreds of gallons of sauce to be used throughout the year in homemade soups, pizzas, enchiladas, braises, etc.; the tomatoes are a true summer gift which keeps on giving throughout the year.” We spoke with Turenne about what it will take before more Connecticut schools follow suit. First, the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, well-intentioned, is not all that it appears. Turenne explains, “Over time, large food companies and brands have been able to


Connecticut Food & Farm, Summer 2016, Issue 5