In addition to the Circle Garden and our many fruit trees, maintained by Director of Environmental Sustainability Tod Cossairt and Besant Hill students, the campus farm has been a source of fresh, organic produce for our school kitchen. It has also provided educational opportunities for students. In recent years, our partnership with Ojai’s Rio Gozo Farm has yielded amazing results. The salad bar is noticeably full of fresh lettuces, spinach, beets, carrots, and many other straight-from-the-farm vegetables.

Farmers and Chefs Work Side-by-Side

A chef himself, and someone with a deep passion for cooking and forming relationships with local restauranteurs, farmer John Fontaine has appreciated working with Besant Hill’s executive chef Juana Juarez and points out that Besant Hill has the advantage of not being an Italian restaurant or Taqueria. With such a varied menu and international student body, Juana can push her horizons and really take full advantage of everything grown on the farm.  That, in turn, results in John pushing his horizons about what to grow. With the kitchen and farm in such close proximity, daily communication is convenient and can be made together about things to grow, or recipe possibilities.

In addition to providing great produce to Besant Hill, Rio Gozo Farm has a thriving CSA program with Thursday pick-up points in Ojai and at Ventura’s Patagonia headquarters and weekly drop-offs to local restaurants.

A Healthy Trend for School Kitchens

Fortunately, farm-fresh produce in school kitchens is not as unique as it used to be, especially in Ventura County. With programs like Farm to School and Food for Thought Ojai, healthy school programs have taken root and are proving to be a great success. Students not only eat healthier at school, but they learn where their food comes from and to appreciate the difference in taste between freshly picked produce and that found in a grocery store, which had to travel great distances to get there. This will result in more young adults who prefer farmers market vegetables, enrolling in a CSA program, and sharing home-cooked meals with friends and family.

Though often glamorized in foodie magazines, enjoying locally sourced produce is not a romantic idea, difficult to obtain, nor is it extra expensive. It’s not about being a vegetarian. It’s about appreciating better-tasting food, improved health, and nurturing relationships with friends, family, and our community.  And there are times when even the hardcore food advocates will have to resort to a ready-to-serve bag of greens or an In-N-Out burger, and those choices should be enjoyed.  But as John points out, “As long as your baseline is full of fresh, organic, local stuff, you’ll be healthier than the average bear.”

And healthier people also result in a healthier environment overall. As we choose to purchase food from local farmers who practice sustainable agriculture, we take smaller bites out of the environment. As Tod explained during the recent Waste-Not March event, “Each purchase we make is also a vote for something and has an impact.” Therefore, increasing our use of locally sourced food is a vote for our environment, our students today, and the adults they will grow into tomorrow. Having Rio Gozo Farm on campus — it doesn’t get more local than that!  Learn more about Rio Gozo Farm at