Everything happens for a reason: Michelle interviews her co-host Rick Sherman


Everything happens for a reason: Michelle interviews her co-host Rick Sherman


00:00:12 Michelle

Welcome to the farm to school podcast where you will hear stories of how you thrive and farmers prosper when we grow, cook and eat delicious, nutritious local foods and schools.

00:00:21 Rick

We're your host, Rick Sherman, and.

00:00:23 Michelle

I'm Michelle Marcus nine. We are farm to school coordinators for the state of Oregon. Today's guest is actually Rez.

00:00:30 Michelle

Co-host Rick Sherman. Hi, Rick.

00:00:33 Rick

Hello. Hello. Hi.

00:00:34 Michelle

Hey all, I asked to interview Rick and it's not because we couldn't get anyone else on the show today, but because Rick is one of my farm to school heroes. Hi, Rick. So he's smiling. You can you can't tell. So I really wanted to share your story and also I think it's great for folks to know who are hosting these farm to school podcasts. Why you?

00:00:57 Rick

Thank you. First off, let me just say I've always felt like I have the best job in the world and I really feel that with every fiber of my being. So I maybe you'll find out why in my journey. So yeah, I started my journey, I've been told is an interesting one. So I don't know if everyone else will think that. I grew up in a coastal town in in Washington state, Anacortes was is its name and we were, we were the original Seahawks, my high school team. I think it was founded in 1909 or something like that. But yeah, I grew up in a sleepy little town and a fishing town, and I worked in high school. I got a job with the Washington state ferry system as a dockboy and it was so interesting. It was extremely physical, hard work. But I I loved it. It was so fun. I worked typically graveyard shifts loading the boats with food. And I would load it with the food with like kegs of beer. And I would have to throw him in a dumb waiter and and run up and unload it. And the dumb waiter break down and I'd have to load a keg of beer up three flights of stairs and let me tell you, those things are heavy, and I was a scrawny 170 LB kid and you can't lift if you lift it wrong once. That's it for your back. So you have to learn to lift correctly. And so I would do that. But interesting story: I have two reoccurring dreams all the time as an adult and that is one of them. Like I wake up in a cold sweat and going oh, I gotta get a case of French fries to the Kaleetan and gotta get a keg of beer to the Elwah - which are boat names. They're boat-specific dreams. Weird. But it was fun. It was a fun job as a kid. Yeah. So I won't tell you what the other reoccurring dream that's for another podcast.

00:03:04 Michelle

But is that how you got into food?

00:03:08 Rick

Food. Yeah, it actually was. So it was through a company. It was named Saga. At the time and and why I bring that up is because Saga sold out that company to Marriott, the hotel chain and then Marriott sold out to a company called Sodexo. And so for those of you who don't know, Sodexo operates a lot of school food services all over all over the country. Yeah. And in and in Oregon where we're from. So we ended up, we lost the account is what they called them there as a new provider came in for the ferry system and they told me that I could work wherever I wanted to in the country, because presumably I was good at what I was doing. I work my way up from being a dockboy to being a manager, yeah, I had put on the tie back in those days and ran around in the boats and worked long hours, seven days a week, actually, for months. It was it was crazy, but no. So I could move anywhere in the country for in the same line of work, which was corporate food service so running cafeterias for like, Digital, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, those types of things.

00:04:28 Rick

So I chose Arizona Phoenix because I've had really always wanted to go there and watch spring training baseball. That was my reason. So I was newly married and so we went down there. I had my first Kid. Alex. Hello out there! My son. We had him down there and I realized it was like living on the surface of the sun. It was extremely hot, 119° in the summer at times, so it was too hot for me at Northwest Boy. So I had an opportunity to move a little north to Colorado Springs.

00:05:04 Rick

And I was there three years. We had our daughter, Stevie. And again, I just started getting homesick and our kids wanted to know who their grandparents were and vice versa. So I wanted to come back home to the Pacific Northwest. So the options at the time were to go to downtown Seattle, which I just really didn't want to do the Big city vibe.

00:05:31 Rick

So I had an opportunity to go to Corvallis, OR to work at the Hewlett-Packard there and so I did that.

00:05:41 Rick

And again another, you know, extremely hard job, I mean working seven days a week, a lot of times, sometimes long hours, I work 36 hours straight. It was crazy. One day I had an opportunity, Somebody told me, hey, should we try out schools? And so I was able to transfer out of that to work in the schools oh, 1993 years or something like that. But I started working for the schools, the school systems situation.

00:06:17 Michelle

So that's how you ended up in school food service. But I often hear you say that the cafeteria can be a crucial part of education system. And I'm just curious, where did your love of education and learning come from?

00:06:32 Rick

It's probably come from the fact that I I actually went to school. I have a degree in in education a K12 degree.

00:06:39 Michelle

Wow, did you? Did you ever teach?

00:06:43 Rick

No, I never did that. That's kind of interesting too, I guess. So when I was, I was working in the ferry system as a manager and I was going to school full time and I'd come back home to Anacortes and work on the weekends on the boats. But I went to school up in Bellingham.

00:07:03 Rick

At Western Washington University: go Vikings!

00:07:07 Rick

But I went there and I went there with the goal to run. I was a runner for 40 years. I don't run anymore, unfortunately, because I have a new hip installed. But, yeah. So I don't run, but back then I ran in high school, I ran cross country and track and so I got on the team at Western. I ran cross country track and actually the marathon. The marathon was a season, an event in the track season. So I got to do that and if I got an education that was fine. So what I ended up doing was just doing what I liked. I liked teaching. I wanted to coach kids someday, which I had the opportunity to do. I could tell you about that later.

00:07:50 Rick

But I got it degree in education. My coach, Dr. Ralph Vernacchia, was a pretty world-renowned sports psychologist and he was in the education system and I really wanted to learn what he did. So I ended up majoring in physical education, minoring and sports psychology through him. So I did that.

00:08:11 Rick

But as a young adult, like 22 years old, I was making pretty good money with doing what I was doing in the ferry system and the thought was, well, I'll just do this while I'm looking for a job. And I ended up going to Arizona and I thought, well, I can always do that. I have this degree, but, I was having fun. I was. I was managing these cafeterias and I and I kind of like doing so. I just. I just kept doing that.

00:08:43 Michelle

Was doing So what does a school food service director do?

00:08:48 Rick

A school food service Director? Well, so when I moved to the schools in in Oregon, I came. I came to Oregon, I had the opportunity. It was for 20 years. I was a food service director in Oregon. I started out in a little community called Dallas. And that's just outside of Salem, a little bedroom community and outside of Salem OR our state capital. And then after 10 years, I went to Albany School District, I was there for six years and I went to Eugene for three years. So during that time I was at. I also was able to coach cross country and track for 20 years. And so I really had a lot of fun doing that and teaching the kiddos. But to to your question, what does a school food service director do?

00:09:36 Rick

They they manage the employees I had as many as 150 employees in Eugene, and, all the human resource issues that that come up with that they plan the menus, they order the food, that it's quite a puzzle to try to get all the food out in the many different menus to the different schools at different levels. You have to follow all the USDA regulations. And so it's just a lot of work, but it was it was rewarding.

00:10:03 Michelle

It was fun, and so then how did you get interested in serving local foods as part of that big puzzle?

00:10:09 Rick

Yeah. So about I think it was 2009 or 2008 actually I was in Eugene.

00:10:18 Rick

And the farm to school movement started well. I guess it was born then. It was started happening and coming to the forefront. And so we had this organ from the school and school garden network. They started having these small meetings of like 30-40 people of key people, food service directors on some nonprofits getting together and telling.

00:10:39 Rick

About getting local food into the schools and where I was in Lane County in Eugene, that was a big deal to the people there. So I started working with some parent groups and thinking you know, I always like to say but or how do we get to? Yes, you know the answer might be no, but how do we get to? Yes. So I started thinking, you know, this sounds really cool and I just the more I got into the local food, it was it was fun. Everyone won. The kids got local food. They got to learn where their food was coming from the local farmers won, I started getting into that and I became a master gardener.

00:11:15 Rick

And I think the next thing you knew I it it kind of took over my life in a really good way. I knew I wanted to do more of that. The farm to school stuff was fun. Stuff that happened after work for me and really before long then the state position opened up. The Department of ED. So I kind of one day quit my job and started doing what I'm doing now.

00:11:42 Michelle

So you went from being a champion and supporting school gardens, but what does that mean that? What you're doing now, why don't you tell us about your current position and why did you do that?

00:11:51 Rick

So this was a brand new position with the Oregon Department of Education. It was new, there was a person in there that was there for about 9 months. Her name was Joan, and she retired. There was a job freeze. So it was vacant for a while. But at the time there weren't very many positions like this state agency position. In the country it was, it was one of the few

00:12:16 Rick

I remember interviewing for this, and I think you were on my interview panel at the time! Michelle was my counterpart for Oregon, Department of AG. So we had two state agency positions, Department of AG and Department of Ed. But I remember my interview and they said, Rick, we knew what you did in Eugene And we loved what you did there. You were successful getting local food into the schools, telling your story, teaching the kids about local food. And we would like for you to duplicate that, you already know school boards, you go to school board meetings, you know teachers, you know, principals, you know, the system. So it'd be nice to duplicate that across the state. And so that was that was the thought I jumped into it and I guess the rest is history. They hired me and we started. We started doing that. I did a couple of things right off the bat.

00:13:19 Rick

The first thing I wanted to figure out was how many school gardens we had, and we were the first state to map all of our school gardens. What I actually did was I called every school guard school in the state, 1300 schools from Amity to Yoncalla, Oregon, and I called the main line and talked to the admin person there and said, hey, do you have a Garden? and they would say, well, we have Rhody’s out front and I'm like, no, do you have carrots in the ground? So they they would say, Oh yeah we do, or we don't. So I'd say, OK, do you have somebody's in in charge of that garden? So I could get their contact information. So that first iteration took me 20 minutes a day, for about 3 months to figure out, we had 283 school gardens at the time.

00:14:06 Rick

So then, we had all this data and contacts so I sent them a survey and we've been doing that ever since. Since I've been in my position 12 years now and so now we have 788 gardens, over half of our schools have a garden of some kind or another, and all this data to match.

00:14:27 Michelle

So how do you help them as a state agency and support the school gardens?

00:14:31 Rick

well at the time it so it morphed into this thing. Like I said, we have the Oregon farm to school and school garden network and there was about 40 people. But once we had this database of school garden coordinators, we started emailing them out saying hey, we have an annual meeting. And annual meeting turned to a meeting from 40 people to 200 and then 400 people now. A lot of it was because of this list, but a lot of it too was just the farm to school. Movement just started taking off too, so I can't really take all the credit for that. But as much as I'd like to but… So the I guess the answer to your question is being there to support the school garden people to work in the schools, to teach kids about local food. The cafeteria is a classroom, so we say farm to school is the three C's to the cafeteria the classroom & the community, the classroom being the school garden. So getting kids outside, we say no child left inside so we can get kids out and breathing and you can teach any subject in the school garden, but also one of the things I did when I when I first got there, they said, well, we have this grant to run. It was a little fledgling grant at the time of $200,000, which $200,000 is a lot of money, but it didn't go very far across the whole state. So we had a grant to teach kids or actually for it was a competitive grant. We had nine schools apply for that first year in 2012.

00:16:07 Rick

And we it was for reimbursement for Oregon grown and processed food to go to the cafeterias and to teach kids about that food. And so we started having success with that. It grew from 200,000 to 1.2 million to 4.5 million. To 10 million to 15 million.

00:16:31 Rick

And then it got reduced back down to 10 and so that's where we're at right now. We've pretty much solidified we're at $10 million and we've been running this grant and since then, yeah, for 12 years now and yet we've actually been able to push the procurement side of this, the reimbursement of the Oregon grown foods out to all schools and child adult care food programs. So pre-K kids and K through 12. All the kids get to take advantage of getting local food in the schools and then the other part of that. So that's 5.2 million is for the food and then 3 million of it is for the education. It's a competitive grant to teach kids about that food.

00:17:22 Michelle

So for those of you who are unfamiliar with what does a state Agency deal related to farm tp school and school gardens, Rick gave us a lot of a big picture like taking a 10,000 foot view of that.

00:17:32 Michelle

That is that the Department of Education and Agriculture work to reduce barriers to getting local foods to schools and getting kids out in school gardens and learning about agriculture, food, nutrition and they also create opportunities. So whenever I've watched you, Rick is whenever something comes up like A barrier is identified like “Ohh, you can't eat school garden produce. That's not safe.” You laugh, but you respond. You create a produce safety policy and get that out to schools. So that's like a really good example of reduced barriers create opportunity.

00:18:10 Rick

Yeah, I think you that was the second thing I did actually. The first was identify the gardens and when I asked my boss about school garden produce, she said, “oh, we have a policy. We don't really OK that.” A the time they didn't know if school garden produce was safe. And I'm like “Well, I have a background in what they call HACCP” (hazard analysis critical control point). That's what the schools use, and NASA used for their space program to make food safe. So I have a background in that.

00:18:46 Rick

But I said, well, let's just let's just make it safe by figuring it out. And so I went about making this training and documentation manual that our health departments in Oregon actually signed off on. And so, yeah, I was pretty proud of that.

00:19:02 Michelle

Lots of millions of dollars in money and grants. Sounds super fancy rec, but what does that actually look like for kids and farmers?

00:19:10 Rick

Let me give you an example, a story that I think really hits home. When I was a food service director I got a call one time from a school garden coordinator in Eugene. I think it was Camas Ridge Elementary and they said, hey, we have 1/2 pan of lettuce from our garden. We would love to put on the cafeteria line.

00:19:32 Rick

And this is kind of interesting because I get a lot of a lot of comments from food service directors even in this day and age and say we just don't have enough garden produce to make it worthwhile to put on my line, we have 500 kids at our school. And if you have a half pan of lettuce, they can't all eat that.

00:19:51 Rick

So that was the case at this school. So what we did is we supplemented it. Every kid got a couple pieces of that lettuce on top of their lettuce that came from the Food service truck. So. So everybody got to have some. But what happened was we advertised it, we put it on the morning announcements, we sent notes home to parents saying, hey, your school garden produce will be featured on the on the salad bar.

00:20:21 Rick

And I had a communications department that got a hold of that. And so I showed up for that day and we had three television stations there, local TV stations with the local newspaper. And we had NPR covering that half a pan of lettuce.

00:20:39 Rick

I always say that as a rebuttal if you will like if a food service director says we don't have enough lettuce to make a difference. for that one, I mean normally we have said had 70% participation at that school, but that day I think we were at 99, everybody bought at lunch that day participation. Ohh sorry, that's just that the amount of kids that come and buy a school lunch that that participate in the National School lunch.

00:21:06 Michelle

70% came and then how many came for the half panel that is?

00:21:11 Rick

It was like 99 %, it was everybody. It was crazy.

00:21:16 Michelle

That's awesome. So obviously the word was out. You talked to your communications.

00:21:20 Michelle

And what else happened? Can you tell me more about that?

00:21:22 Rick

So the moral of the story is to tell your story I Sometimes say don't even bother to do farm to school if you don't tell your story. And in this case we talked to a guest a while ago that said if you just put your food out, the kids will notice it and they'll make a difference. But if you tell the story, they will make the connection and devour the food and make lifelong, healthy choices.

SoSo that's why I just, I really believe in telling your story and communicating and doing the marketing behind your farm to school program.

00:22:02 Michelle

Well, I really appreciate you sharing your story with us today and from your perspective, what are some things that people can do to be more involved in farm to school and school gardens?

00:22:15 Rick

A bunch of things really. I think the first thing to do is just go have lunch with your kid, for one thing, and see what your school lunch is like. A lot of times people don't know. And so that's a good way to find out. And then you can see if, hey, do we have a school garden at your school? You can volunteer there you can.

00:22:34 Rick

In your state, you probably have a farm to school network. You can join. You can Google that and I guess in our show notes we could put down. We have a national farm to school network and there's a link to find the key people in your state. In Oregon, we have the Oregon Farm to school and school garden network. And we have regional hubs all over that really connect the people really well.

00:23:02 Rick

And then you can meet the food service director, meet the school garden coordinator. If there is one, you can you can plug in at the local level or the state level. There's so many options.

00:23:15 Michelle

Well, that sounds really easy and fun to get involved, Rick, thanks for those suggestions and thank you everyone for listening. Farm to school was written, directed and produced by Rick Sherman and Michelle Marcus time and was made possible by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.

00:23:29 Rick

The content and ideas on the phone to school podcast does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Oregon State University, Oregon Department of Education and the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA, Oregon Department of Education and Oregon State University are Equal Employment Opportunity employers.

00:23:47 Michelle

Do you want to learn more about farm to school and school gardens? check out other episodes, show notes, and much more at rootopia.com Rootopia is a project of Oregon State University.

00:24:01 Rick

Or do you have an idea for a future podcast? Please send us an e-mail at [email protected]. Bye everybody. Thank you so much.

00:24:08 Michelle

Bye everyone. Thanks for listening.

From his humble beginnings as a Dockboy and competitive distance runner, to earning an ED degree and finding his dream job as a State Agency Farm to School Analyst, listen as Michelle interviews her co-host, Rick Sherman.

About Rick

Rick was hired by the Oregon Department of Education in 2012 as the Farm to School/School Garden coordinator after working for 32 years for a Nutrition Services Director. The last 20 of those years were spent as a Director of Nutrition Services in Eugene, Albany and Dallas (Oregon). Rick’s claims to fame were identifying all of Oregon’s school gardens-the first state to do so (currently there are 788 school gardens in Oregon!); developing a school garden food safety training & documentation manual; and operating a $10.6 million grant for reimbursing school districts that purchase Oregon grown and processed food & providing educational activities for students.

Rick was born and raised in Anacortes, WA , and graduated from Western Washington University (Bellingham, WA) with a degree in Education. He was a runner for forty years, competing at the national level in the Steeplechase, and was a high school track and cross country coach for 20 years. Rick is a Master Gardener, loves home brewing, & riding dirt bikes. He spends his spare time in his backyard garden and raising chickens.


The Farm to School Podcast is produced by Rick Sherman, Farm to Child Nutrition Program Manager at the Oregon Department of Education and Michelle Markesteyn, Farm to School Specialist at Oregon State University Extension with production support from LeAnn Locher, OSU Extension. The show is made possible by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.

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