Yorkshireman and state school chef Steve Ashburn believes schools should put more of an emphasis on sourcing quality, seasonal ingredients from local producers. At Rosset school in Harrogate, this is exactly what he is doing.
The exciting menu on offer for the 950 pupils includes Easingwold pork escalopes, stuffed with leek and Wensleydale cheese, with Wakefield rhubarb posset for dessert – all ingredients locally sourced.
The school’s director of finance, Joe Joyce, says: “We believe feeding the stomach is feeding the mind, and we wanted good quality food with varied menus because we really wanted to raise attainment.” According to the Better Food campaign, locally sourced food not only tastes better, but also contains more nutrients. It also supports the local economy, as well as being better for the environment.
However, many schools have not adopted Ashburn’s policy. In March this year, it was found that councils in Scotland have been spending millions importing food for school meals, which could have been sourced locally. Imported products included chicken from Thailand and carrots from Belgium.
While switching to locally sourced food may seem daunting to many schools, Joyce claims that spending has not increased much. “We just have to be a bit better organised and more selective in our supply routes. It’s not proven difficult to source locally, as we’re in an area with really high-quality products” he says. Ashburn agrees, saying “the Yorkshire suppliers are as competitive as any. I’ve worked with them for 20 years – you get to trust them and they trust you and you build a good rapport. They might call and say they have a load of strawberries to get rid of, so we get good deals.”
The benefits can be seen first-hand in Rosset’s school canteen from the number of smiling faces; since going local, the number of students regularly eating school dinner has doubled. Joyce says: “Financially, we want to capture them in year 7 and keep them coming in until they leave at year 13. The less we lose along the way, the more successful our catering offering is going to be.”