Stepping Up to the Plate: Attending the First-Ever California Farm to School Conference

No comments:
[Laney Siegner, ERG graduate student]

“Only in the past decade has farm to school emerged as a movement to change the way children understand food and to offer farmers new markets for what they produce.” (Beery & Joshi, 2012) 

Tasting reception at Monterrey High School featuring food produced by participating districts in the California Thursdays initiative.

At the Asilomar Conference Grounds, there was a palpable excitement for those present of being in rooms full of farm to school enthusiasts. Although hailing from a variety of backgrounds and job titles (teachers, farmers, school administrators, food service directors, school “chefs,” non-profit leaders, school board members, parent volunteers, and academic researchers), all were enthusiastic about the premise of providing real, healthy food to schools from local farms.

The Farm to School program in California currently involves over 85 school districts, of which Berkeley Unified School District was the first district in the country to pass a progressive food policy recognizing the connection between healthy eating and effective learning. On May 4-6, 2015, over 250 California “first responders” to the national health care crisis convened in Pacific Grove, CA for a state-level Farm to School conference.

Conference attendees were encouraged to take a "holistic view" of how fresh produce contributes to school curriculum and education. Laney is the corn with the tennis racket on the left.

Sam Farr, Democratic Congressman from California, delivered opening remarks asserting that the crew gathered before him were first responders in the sense that providing healthy food grown on local farms to students in school was a fundamental strategy for reducing childhood obesity and the associated lifetime health care costs that put such a strain on the national system. From an ERGie perspective, I am used to hearing such interdisciplinary analyses of the benefits of a particular program like Farm to School. This was just the first in a series of frames placed around Farm to School programs, from health and nutrition to environmentalism, to climate change, and improved math and science education.

... it is important to note a central theme of the conference: the need to more rigorously evaluate programs consistently across districts and states...
This basic idea of farm to school has become “revolutionary” thanks to the modern industrial food system, a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions (due to transportation, concentrated animal waste streams, land use change, and chemical fertilizer inputs) environmental degradation and adverse human health outcomes. Not to mention the loss of aspects of culture associated with the loss of small farms and farmers as a way of life in this country. Issues of food are issues of culture: food is what we are and want to be. If we want to be diverse, full of variety, connected, healthy, and environmentally “literate,” than our food system has to be those things first.

As a means to promote biodiversity, local economic development, social justice, secondary education, and environmental and human health, school gardens or farm-to-school programs are pretty compelling solutions to contemplate. They hit so many targets with one arrow. However, before getting too carried away with the idea, it is important to note a central theme of the conference: the need to more rigorously evaluate programs consistently across districts and states; the need to collect numerical data year after year, and the need to move beyond anecdotal “success stories” towards scientifically driven empirical results necessary to secure sustainable funding for such programs.

CA Thursdays is an initiative started by the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley. 

It is my hope, as a researcher and former educator, that Farm-to-School can be embedded as part of a holistic approach to secondary school reform. According to the “3 pillars” of the U.S. Green Ribbon School award program, schools must meet building, operations, and curriculum standards in greening their school. To meet these criteria, for example, cafeteria food might be procured from local farms and supplemented by an on-site garden-classroom; the school implements energy efficiency and waste recycling/reduction measures in buildings; and the curriculum across subjects is reflective of the realities of climate change and today’s environmental problems,

To see what some schools have been on to with Farm to School programs, conference participants were invited to Monterey High School for a “California Thursdays” tasting reception of what local school districts are offering to their students. The California Thursdays initiative was created by the Center for Ecoliteracy and piloted in Oakland Unified School District; currently 42 districts participate in serving meals sourced from California ingredients on that day of the week (totaling over 250 million meals annually).

The results were impressive, colorful, and delicious; a promising sign of things to come in building the world we want the next generation to inherit. For more info on CA Farm to School programs, policy initiatives, and resources for schools, go to http://www.farmtoschool.org/our-network/California.

Note: The views expressed here belong solely to the author of each entry and are not representative of the position of the Energy and Resources Group, UC Berkeley.

No comments:

Post a Comment

© ERG. Design adapted from Main-Blogger Blogger Template.