Food for Thought Ojai would like to recognize and honor Suzanne Lugotoff for 10 years of skillful leadership for our OUSD Nutrition Services Department. Suzanne arrived with her family in September 2006 ready to face the challenges of a small district with a much smaller Nutrition Services budget than her previous district. Suzanne was given the directive to eliminate the department’s budget shortfall. Suzanne worked diligently to make wise purchasing decisions and limit spending, often times working in the kitchens across the district as a substitute Nutrition Services worker. Suzanne was especially visible at Nordhoff where her daughters attended school. She was a presence at countless sporting events cheering for the Rangers and a friendly face to all.
In 2008 her department lost 17 hours of weekly labor during the California fiscal crisis and Suzanne was forced to eliminate the weekly Salad Bar Day, which Food for Thought Ojai had championed for 4 years. Following the downsizing, Suzanne worked with Food for Thought Ojai to establish an Ojai Harvest of the Month program and then worked with her colleagues across the county to promote a Ventura County Harvest of the Month schedule. This collaborative energy provided many benefits to our district in terms of purchasing and opportunities to share best practices with her dedicated Nutrition Services team.
Suzanne was integral to OUSD’s Green Committee and worked to identify ways to eliminate plastics and food waste when possible (it is much harder than one might think given the requirements of both National School Lunch and Ventura County Environmental Health). Suzanne was eager to identify ways her Nutrition Services and Food for Thought Ojai could work together to promote nutrition, school meals, and healthier food choices. Together we have worked to bring garden grown food into the school kitchens, designed flyers and Harvest of the Month Calendars and eliminated the use of 5-compartment Styrofoam lunch trays (that is 64,000 LESS Styrofoam trays going the landfill each year!). Suzanne and I have presented the successes of our partnership to our school board a number of times over the years and we work together on the Steering Committee for the Ventura County Farm to School Collaborative.
I have come to know Suzanne as advocate for Farm to School programs, a thoughtful leader, a dedicated parent, a supporter of public education and a friend. The relationship between Food for Thought Ojai and Ojai Unified School District is strong and respectful thanks in large part to Suzanne. We wish her much success in her new position at Oxnard Elementary. We are also fortunate that Julie Chessen, our new Nutrition Services Director has known and worked with Suzanne.
Julie Chessen takes the baton, so to speak and comes to us from Oxnard Elementary School District. Ms. Chessen is very enthusiastic to learn more about the Food for Thought Ojai program. Together Julie and I have toured several school gardens and visited a Pixie Orchard, with more tours scheduled this week. She completed her schooling at Cal Poly and is very active with the Ventura County Farm to School Collaborative. She co-hosted the successful Growing Edible Education Conference at Fremont Middle School in October and is familiar with many farmers in the county. We at Food for Thought Ojai look forward to cultivating another wonderful working relationship with Julie and the outstanding team of Nutrition Services employees.
Lori Hamor, Executive Director