Sustainability in the Spence Kitchens—Where Does Our Lunch Come From?

By Chef Abigael Birrell, Upper School Kitchen Manager

Bright baskets of crisp apples are one of the first things you see as you walk into the cafeteria at The Spence School. Our students are on a first-name basis with local New York apple varieties, clamoring for their favorites such as Goldrush or Crimson Crisp. But our commitment to providing delicious, locally sourced ingredients goes way beyond apples.
The bounty of local fruit arrives twice weekly from our partners at GrowNYC and the Common Market. These distributers give us access to a wide variety of grains, fruits and vegetables from farms in the tri-state area. The Spence Kitchens have made leaps and bounds the past several years increasing the local ingredients we use daily in our breakfast and lunch programs. Each week we search for ways to highlight new vegetables coming into season, getting students to try and enjoy new foods such as sweet, tiny Hakurei turnips, simply roasted delicata squash and a variety of winter greens. From our rolled oats and maple syrup in our house-made granola to the chicken, eggs and milk that we use every day, Spence is supporting our regional agricultural communities.

We also seek out small businesses here in New York City to supply staples such as sliced bread for sandwiches from Hot Bread Kitchen, tortillas from Tortilleria Nixmatal in Queens, pita bread from Damascus Bakery on Atlantic Avenue and handmade phyllo dough from the 100-year-old Poseidon Bakery over in Hell’s Kitchen. These businesses often become part of the conversation for students. And we frequently partner with faculty to create menus that bring to life the food traditions in the countries being studied in class.

In addition to local sourcing, we strive to lower our footprint through waste management. We compost all food scraps in the kitchen and students compost all plate waste in the dining room, collectively keeping 300 pounds of waste out of landfills every day! We also work with the student-run environmental organization SEED, to raise awareness among our student body about our current recycling and composting options.

Our weekly menus outline what is coming in from the farms to raise greater awareness of our local partners. We always list produce that is coming in from the Greenmarket and Common Market. Here at Spence, we are proud to support our students and faculty in their important work with delicious, healthy food, grown with integrity and cooked with care.

Regularly featured producers include:

Farmer’s Cow, CT: milk and eggs
Cascun Farm, NY: chicken and beef
Hot Bread Kitchen, NY: sourdough, whole wheat and pumpkinseed crusted sandwich bread
Maine Grains, ME: oats, polenta, farro
Dagele Brothers Produce, NY: cauliflower and broccoli
Lynoaken Heritage Orchard, NY: apples
Prospect Hills Orchard, NY: apples
Tremblay Apiaries, NY: honey
Pequea Valley Farms, PA: yogurt
Emerick’s Pure Maple Products, PA: maple syrup
Dusty Lane Farms, NJ: frozen corn and peas
Muzzarelli Farm, NJ: sweet potatoes
Jersey Fresh!, NJ: canned crushed tomatoes
Ray’s Foods, PA: seitan
Soom Foods, PA: tahini
Fresh Tofu Inc.: tofu