In late September, the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program hosted a tour of Sacramento public school kitchens and gardens to introduce policy makers to Farm to School efforts in Sacramento and promote a dialogue around how policy can build a strong Farm to School network in the region.
Tour attendees learned from school Food Service Directors about the complexity of planning healthy, locally sourced meals for students, and from Garden Educators about the role garden-based education plays in promoting healthy eating.
Following his staff’s attendance at a UC SAREP Farm to School Tour in Sacramento, Congressman John Garamendi convened a roundtable discussion at UC Davis in November with educators, garden coordinators, area school district food service directors, farmers, representatives from UC SAREP and the UCD Center for Nutrition in Schools, advocates, and other stakeholders.
And hear about linking Farm to School efforts with school gardens below.
The event offered an opportunity for stakeholders to discuss the challenges of establishing robust purchasing relationships between local farms and school districts, the necessary roles of food and nutrition in primary education curriculum, and the obstacles to implementation and integration of educational gardens in California schools. Attendees also offered ideas for how they could – or already have – navigated some of these challenges to establish Farm to School relationships and achieve successes. Of particular interest to Garamendi were insights into how creative policy solutions might address the varied challenges put forth by the group – in his words, “how do we make this work?”
Concerns of the group fell into several broad areas: difficulty in funding the acquisition and long-term maintenance of physical infrastructure to enable Farm to School programs at schools, the need for creative support for already-overwhelmed teachers in integrating nutrition and garden education across curriculum, and the lack of a clear pathway for relationship-building between farmers and school districts.
Although the USDA awards $5 million in grants annually through the Food and Nutrition Service Farm to School Grant Program, for school districts, farmers, state and local agencies, and non-profits, the message from the roundtable group was clear: Farm to School requires a reliable longer-term funding stream that can enable farmers and school districts to pursue committed procurement relationships, equip teachers to deliver curriculum-based nutrition and food education that aligns with state standards, and maintain school gardens and other infrastructure.
The group shared perspectives about how to build programs and relationships, including hiring school garden coordinators to assist with curriculum preparation and facility maintenance, and foragers” to coordinate farmers and school districts to help them understand each other’s needs and promote sales.
The group agreed to reconvene with Garamendi in the new year with specific ideas for policies to support the above challenges and strategies for funding them.