Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

School Lunch Hero Day — Meet Monterey County school nutrition director Denisse Peña

In honor of today being School Lunch Hero Day, CDFA would like to recognize Denisse Peña, director of Nutrition Services at the South Monterey County Joint Union High School District (SMCJUHSD), due to her work with student-produced agriculture to create made-from-scratch meals, and utilizing farm-to-school grants to help ensure her district’s students benefit from healthy, nutritious meals!

The school district is a 2021 and 2022 recipient of the CDFA Farm to School Incubator Grant Program. In 2021, the grant project included two farm-to-cafeteria educational programs that allowed Denisse and her team to serve student-grown kale and mixed baby greens in the cafeteria salad bar and student-raised pork in school meals (see pozole from scratch in photo).

This year, Denisse is coordinating a second grant project to establish more farm to school programs by partnering with the California Wheat Commission to procure whole grain wheat from California farmers, using a mill for baked goods, and using an extruder to add fresh pasta in school meals. Also, the district’s Nutrition Services Department will procure local grass-fed beef for school meals.

We thank Denisse and her team in South Monterey County, and we salute School Lunch Heroes throughout California!

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