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Behind the Scenes at Community Action Partnership: What’s Cooking?

Bryan Brown on the roadPart 1 in a new series of interviews with Community Action Partnership Staff

Cal Poly Social Science Student and Community Action Partnership Volunteer Intern Kaitlyn Oelsner interviews Bryan Brown, Food Services Manager, about his role at the agency.

Kaitlyn: What are some of your responsibilities as a Food Services Manager?

Bryan: I oversee the USDA funded Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Our primary responsibility is to provide healthy meals for the children in our Child Care Centers. We have centers spread across nine counties in California. Also, I spend time working with the Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter to make sure they have dinners four of the seven nights a week. We have a cook that creates brilliant meals that provide sustenance for those in need.

K: The Child Care Food Program places an emphasis on the importance and value of healthy and nutritious meals. What does a typical meal look like at one of the Child Care Centers?

B: We want to provide the children in our program with as much fresh food as possible and I am proud to say that about sixty-five percent of all the produce we serve is fresh. We serve breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack. Our food is served family style. This is a great model that comes from Head Start. It encourages the kids to interact in a positive way with one another through sharing and cooperation. Also, we believe that family style meals empower the children to take a more active role in the meal they are eating. The teachers play an important role in the Food Service program as well and that is to promote healthy eating and to encourage the children to take second servings of the fruits and vegetables we have available. We try and provide food that isn’t just healthy but that they enjoy. Oranges and broccoli are some of the favorites and we try to serve those things as often as possible.

K: Providing meals for The Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter is massive undertaking. What are some of your food sources?

B: We are fortunate to get a lot of donations from the community. We get donations from a variety of businesses including; local growers, Trader Joe’s, Panera Breads and Hearst Ranch Beef – most of this coming directly from the SLO County Food Bank. Just recently, we had a few whole tuna donated and our Cook, Dave Schmidt was able to put together some great meals from those.

K: You just wrapped up the first ever Play Yard Environment and Gardening Training. Can you talk a bit about that?

B: Carole Schwartz and I have done our first play-yard/gardening training. We did this for the North Monterey County Migrant and Seasonal Head Start staff. One of the topics we covered was worm bins (as a form of recycling). The teachers loved it as an opportunity for the children's educational enrichment. We will be doing this same training for all our childcare programs in the centers across the 9 counties. I just received a shipment of worm bins that we will be able to use at all our childcare centers (once guidance has been provided). They recently sent me a couple enormous zucchinis that were grown in the garden so it seems that the program has had some success.

K: You do some cooking demonstrations in child care center kitchens on staff development days. What are some of the things that you teach at these demonstrations?

B: I have started doing cooking demonstrations for our cooks during our staff development days. So far I have done it in two counties - SLO and Ventura. One thing I like to do at these demonstrations is to have one bowl for waste (mostly packaging material) and another for compost. I think it is important to illustrate just how little waste can be produced when you are working with fresh ingredients. The other bowl is used to hold things that can go into compost. It is a great opportunity to talk about the value of compost.

K: The Food Systems Coalition is a fairly new organization that you are involved it. What sort of role does the Food Systems Coalition play in the community?

B: I recently became one of the administrators for the Food Systems Coalition. The local Food Bank won a grant to study hunger in San Luis Obispo County. With the assistance of STRIDE of California Polytechnic University and a graduate student, a study was completed and published. Together, we utilized a grant from the USDA Hunger Free Communities Department, and produced The Hunger Free Communities Survey Presentation. In response, we were fortunate enough to have the USDA award us with a planning grant. The ultimate goal of the Food Systems Coalition is to address any or all food related issues within the county. We are currently in the beginning stages but we are working hard to advance the group. More information about the Food Systems Coalition can be found on the SLO Food Bank Website

K: How do you think your job is helping people; changing lives?

B: It is a great time to be in the business of feeding people...in particular feeding children. There is so much positive attention and support in putting our diets back in alignment with what our bodies actually need. In our position we are on the front lines of helping children develop palates that desire high quality meals made from fresh ingredients. And we are a long way down the road in doing that. This is in stark contrast to so many young children that unknowingly are being fed a diet that quite likely will lead them to a life in which they will have to contend with all the negative effects of diabetes and the many complications of obesity. A life where you have the optimum health is a life where you can give the most.

Bryan Brown is a Food Services Manager and works in the Child, Youth and Family Services Department (CYFS). He has worked at Community Action Partnership for ten years.