Sunday, October 26, 2008

School Lunch

My daughter told me last night that she was late getting up for school on Friday so she didn’t have time to pack a lunch. I knew this wasn’t good because lunch is one of her really important meals.

She will get up in the morning and work over the leftovers in the fridge, the snacks in the pantry, impose on me to slice an apple or peel an orange, there might be some soup or a fruit salad or pasta involved, and always some bread. “Lunch” to Madeline starts early and lasts all day. Mini-meals and snacks to keep her going through school, into field hockey, and then home where we usually get dinner around 7ish.

She had a game yesterday that went until about 6:30 and instead of her engine burning off a typical Madi meal she subbed in a “School Lunch Bundle”. This included Pizza, sunflower seeds, off-brand goldfish, and chocolate milk. She complained that she didn’t feel right all afternoon, and couldn’t concentrate well.

It got me thinking about an news story that I had seen recently, but can’t find now about a school food Cooperative where, since it’s inception, the students grades, behavior, and health have all improved. I did find the National Farm to School Network website and enjoyed a series of clicks that took me through what various school districts are doing to rebuild the link from the farm to the table. Here is some of what I found.

TheNational Farm to School Network is an ongoing grassroots effort to build a local food economy, a bridge between the farmer in the field and the student in the cafeteria. Kids are beginning to learn that broccoli actually tastes good, and administrators are learning that kids will eat healthy foods when they are fresh and taste good. When you factor in possible healthcare costs down the road, from diet-related illnesses, everyone wins: fresh, healthier food for school kids, support for local farmers, and less food waste at school.

California-based organizations and school districts led by Occidental College’s Center for Food and Justice are working towards advancing and institutionalizing the Farm to school concept throughout the state. While these organizations provide capacity to carry out this work, the long-term leadership for accomplishing and institutionalizing the goals of the program has come from parents, teachers, farmers, youth, food services staff and children.

With a year round growing season, California is blessed with fresh produce throughout the year. As of 2004, there are about 30 school districts operating farm to school programs in the state. Most programs in California use the salad bar model (with or without the hot entrée option) to include farm fresh fruits and vegetables in the school lunch program With support from the W.K.Kellogg Foundation, the California Farm to School Program is working towards establishing systems to ease out the barriers to developing farm to school programs in schools. In particular, the program is working to:

• Research and develop models for marketing and delivery mechanisms for family farmers to sell to school districts in California which meet the needs of both the school district and the farmer.

• Develop a viable business plan to assist school districts in the transition to farm-to-school meal programs. Check out Rethinking School Lunch at

• Provide farm-to-school technical assistance to farmers, school food service staff, educators, community organizers, and others around California. Two farm to school workshops have been conducted in 2003 and more are planned for 2004-05. Check this website for more information on upcoming workshops.

• Develop farm to school related state, local, and district food policies in collaboration with other groups in California. See for details.

• Further develop model pilot programs in Davis and Winters school districts, with a system that supports the marketing, procurement and serving of locally grown fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes in school meals. The Davis and Winters programs serve as Demonstration Sites for the California program, hosting site visits for interested food service directors and organizers, and conducting outreach about the program. Starting October 2004, Compton Unified School District began to serve as a Farm to School Demonstration Site as well.

Monterey County Farm to School Partnership
The Monterey County Farm to School Partnership is working to improve school lunches by promoting fresh produce sourced from local growers and by working with schools to implement healthy school food policies. The program supporting school garden- based education where children can obtain hands-on experience in growing their own vegetables, while meeting California State Content Standards. They also link schools to local farms and farmers through our Garden of Learning program.

The Garden of Learning, now in its fourth year, is a springtime program of the Monterey County Farm to School Partnership at the Watershed Institute, California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB). The organizing principle of the program is the exchange of information and services among schoolchildren, college students, and farmers. In school greenhouses, service-learning students from CSUMB and "Garden of Learning" staff help low-income Latino farmers teach schoolchildren how to plant and care for organic vegetable starts that are later transplanted to the farmers' fields. In exchange, the farmers conduct classroom visits where the schoolchildren learn about the influence of agro-ecosystems on watershed health and personal health and lead farm trips where the students learn about their food shed by maintaining, harvesting, and eating vegetables that they have helped to grow. The program has grown from a pilot project with one farmer and 20 children in one school during its first season to numerous farmers working with over 500 students in 8 schools producing approximately 100,000 vegetable starts over the course of 4 seasons.

Funding for the program was secured from the private sector for an assessment to be carried out by CSU Monterey Bay's Watershed Institute. The result, The Smart Food Assessment- An assessment of Farm to School opportunities for schools and the schoolchildren of Monterey County, was published in March 2003.

Several organizations form the Monterey County Farm to School Partnership (MCFTSP). The founding members of this partnership are the CSU Monterey Bay Watershed Institute, Community Alliance with Family Farmers-Central Coast (CAFF), Monterey County Food Bank, Life Lab Science Program and the Monterey County Weekly newspaper.

Other activities done as part of the program are:

Chef in the Classroom
With the support of Whole Foods Market Monterey, they have been able to offer schools fresh produce tasting and a chef in the classroom program. Over 300 students and parents participated in hands-on preparation classes and/or tasting and have received numerous healthy recipes and resources. The Chef in the Classroom program uses vegan raw food recipes for demonstration and some Latino 5 a Day Tool Box recipes/activities. All chefs involved donated their time and Whole Foods Market Monterey donated the food/beverages.

Opera of Health
In collaboration, we brought the Opera of Health Theater Production to 1600 local second grade children. It taught the importance of good nutrition and healthy lifestyle through song and dance.

Kari Bernardi
100 Campus Center, Bldg. #42
Seaside, 93955
Phone: (831) 582-5115

The Edible School Yard
The Edible Schoolyard is a non-profit program located on the campus of Martin Luther King Junior Middle School in Berkeley, California. The cooking and gardening program grew out of a conversation between chef and author Alice Waters, and former King Middle School Principal Neil Smith. Planning commenced in 1995 and two years later, more than an acre of asphalt parking lot had been cleared. A cover crop was planted to enrich the soil, and in 1997, the school’s unused 1930s cafeteria kitchen was refurbished to house the kitchen classroom.

Today, the program is integrated into the middle school's daily life. The organic garden is flourishing, plants feed and outgrow the adolescents who nurtured them, and the kitchen is filled with delicious smells, music, and enthusiastic young chefs.

Garden classes teach the Principles of Ecology, the origins of food, and respect for all living systems. Students work together to shape and plant beds, amend soil, turn compost, and harvest flowers, fruits, and vegetables.

In the kitchen classroom, students prepare and eat delicious seasonal dishes from produce they have grown in the garden. Students and teachers gather at the table to share food and conversation during each class. The cycle of food production is completed in the kitchen, as students eat fruits, vegetables, and grains grown in soil rich with the compost of last season's produce.
They complete the Seed to Table cycle by taking vegetable scraps back to the garden at the end of each kitchen class. The Seed to Table experience exposes children to food production, ecology, and nutrition, and fosters an appreciation of meaningful work, and of fresh and natural food.

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