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Faces of Local: School Nutrition Director for Buncombe County Schools

Lisa Payne croppedASAP likes to share stories of people who help us fulfill our mission. In celebration of National Farm to School Month, we’re featuring an advocate for local food in schools, Lisa Payne, School Nutrition Director for Buncombe County Schools. To learn more about farm to school, visit, and register for Growing Minds Farm to School Conference in November. 


What is your job at Buncombe County Schools, and what does it entail?

I am School Nutrition Director for Buncombe County Schools. In the Buncombe County School District, I oversee all aspects of food service in all schools or sites, administering the school meal program in accordance to local, state and federal policies.

Why is farm to school important to you?
Farm to school is important to me and Buncombe County Schools because we are enriching the lives of students and adults who are able to consume great, nutritionally sound fresh product grown in their area. Supporting great nutrition, consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables provides the healthy nutrition that our students need to learn. Not only do our students learn good eating habits when they see and choose local fruits and vegetables, they learn geography lessons, they learn about agriculture, they gain the desire to garden and the desire to influence their parents decisions at the grocery store. We post Appalachian Grown signs in our cafeteria, signage recognized by many in the grocery store and local restaurants. The opportunities are endless.

Can you talk about buying directly from farmers, such as Pangaea Plants?
What a great culinary and educational experience for Buncombe County Schools. Pangaea Plants provided us with GAP Certified acorn squash and butternut squash and we were excited to receive Gabe’s product. Leslie Guzman, our School Nutrition Specialist was able to transform the squash into USDA School Nutrition compliant finished recipes. Dishes served to our students were butternut squash soup and roasted butternut and acorn squash. The feedback we received from students was very positive.

Can you talk about the local foods that you purchase through your distributor?
Marvin’s Produce, our vendor partner knows the importance of providing Buncombe County Schools local produce when possible. Marvin’s works as the produce supplier to the WNC Produce Purchasing Cooperative that includes Buncombe, Haywood, and Henderson Counties. We also receive fresh fruits and vegetables grown in North Carolina from NC Department of Agriculture through the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program.

Have you seen any trends in your schools/community around farm to school?
I first met Emily Jackson of ASAP in 2004. At that time, Federal Procurement Regulations prevented School Nutrition Professionals from stating geographical preference when securing USA grown products to be used in their programs, which was frustrating for Emily and for me. Fast forward to 2014-2015: training is now being provided by NCDA and USDA to provide more flexibility when purchasing local fresh fruits and vegetables. Each person that could ask for more flexibility is now seeing that their efforts were not in vain. This is great news for communities.

Can you give us an example of a special moment you’ve experienced through farm to school work?
Receiving Moon and Stars Watermelons from Pangaea Plants, then watching the students at North Buncombe Elementary smile and giggle as watermelon juice ran down their chins.

Can you talk about some ways that ASAP’s Growing Minds has worked with you or your schools?
ASAP’s Growing Minds Program is very successful in our schools. Watching the students try new foods, ask questions, share family stories of farmers in their lives, then have them tell us that they are going to get their parents to buy a particular food that ASAP provided for them to taste is a documented success.

What’s one of your favorite things about your job?
Serving local fruits and vegetables, watching kids learn to eat foods that they may never have been offered unless we prepare the food and serve them. Thinking out of the box and teaching our students to love good food.