Over 100 School District Food Service Leaders Gather in Austin, TX for the First National Gathering to Increase Scratch Cooking

ScratchWorks, a collaborative to help school food professionals create a community to increase scratch cooking holds its first Annual Gathering
May 11, 2023 2:00 PM ET

AUSTIN, Texas, May 11, 2023 /3BL Media/ - The three day event opened with remarks from founding member Nancy Easton, Executive Director of Wellness in the Schools who stated “we are not an organization, we are a collaborative; and this is not a conference, it is a gathering. There are no vendors here to sell you anything, only a space to connect and learn from each other.” ScratchWorks was conceived during the summer of 2019 when a group of nonprofits and school food service operators came together to consider what could be done to accelerate change in school food. ScratchWorks was born, a collective of school food professionals and non-profit organizations, developed by and for food service operators, committed to supporting school districts in cooking school meals from scratch using whole, fresh ingredients. Unique to this collective is its funding model - the donors, Life Time Foundation and Whole Kids Foundation, are also its partners who continually collaborate with the districts to meet their goals.

A significant component of support offered by this collective was the development of a multi-day professional development and networking event that brought together school food programs from across the country wanting to increase their scratch cooking practices. The inaugural event took place in Austin, TX on April 24-26, 2023. Representatives from over 100 school districts came together for this multi-day event, featuring nearly 20 educational sessions led by school food operation leaders from across the country. Sessions included topics such as Scratch vs. Speed Scratch, Message Development for Your Program, Policies and Legislation Supporting Scratch Cooking, Recipe and Menu Development and many more. Founding member and Minneapolis Public Schools, Director Culinary and Wellness Services Bertrand Weber commented, “You could feel how different this event was and how invigorated attendees were after the three days, building these relationships will ensure we have a network to lean on when we have questions,”

The event opened up with a keynote address by Chef Andrew Zimmern, TV personality, chef, writer and social justice advocate. Chef Zimmern applauded the attendees for pushing past the status quo and emphatically stated, “the question isn’t can we afford to do this? The fact is we can’t afford not to. It would cost us17B$ to fully restore scratch cooking in our national public school system, including equipment, re-builds, product and staff. Sounds like a lot. But our federal budget is 6.3T$ annually. So 17B$ is a rounding error when it comes to the cost, it’s .0027% of the federal budget.”

School food leaders from districts across 18 states and representing enrollment of over 1.1 million students shared in their excitement for a new kind of event. While there are many conferences that support a broad spectrum of school food operation topics, this gathering was the first national event to focus all of its educational sessions and experiences around scratch cooking in schools. It is well known that scratch cooking presents more complexities than serving packaged food and we believe that bringing leaders together to share their experiences and build relationships is one of the most significant things that can be done to increase scratch cooking in schools in our country.

The closing session was an interview with USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services Administrator, Cindy Long, who offered up her philosophy on scratch cooking in schools; “what I feel like I’ve learned is that there is no one answer for every circumstance. Scratch cooking clearly offers benefits. You have much more control. You can tailor to your community. It supports engagement and connection with food”. When the floor was opened for questions, district leaders asked about the new proposed rule, particularly around more stringent sodium standards. Administrator Long emphasized that new proposed updates to the nutrition standards are to be executed over 10-years and they are applied to a menu cycle not a meal, so with scratch cooking there is more flexibility.

Since cooking and food were at the core of the experience, districts were encouraged to submit their recipes prior as event planners chose breakfast and lunch menus. Some of the favorites included a Chickpea Masala submitted by Bellingham Washington Public Schools and a Cambodian Lok Lak served at Lowell Public Schools in MA, which caters to their local Southeast Asian student population.

ScratchWorks is a collective of school food professionals and non-profit organizations committed to supporting school districts in cooking school meals from scratch using whole, fresh ingredients that provide students with the nutrition they need for their educational success, health and wellbeing. Founding members include Andrew Benson, Ann Cooper, Amy Maclosky, Ryan Mikolaycik, Stephen O’Brien and Bertrand Weber as well as Chef Ann Foundation, Life Time Foundation, Wellness in the Schools and Whole Kids Foundation

Contact: Nona Evans
Email: Nona.Evans@outlook.com           
Tel:  512.289.9258