Eight California farm-to-school programs received federal grants on Tuesday with the goal of making broccoli cool on the North Coast, bringing traditional Karuk Tribe foods into Siskiyou County schools and supporting local farmers across the state, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced.
Nearly $620,000 in one-year grants will be distributed to programs, including nearly $100,000 to the Chico Unified School District to increase the amount of local produce on cafeteria menus and $100,000 to Community Health Improvement Partners, a San Diego-based public health collaborative, to expand farm-to-school programs in San Diego County schools.
Among the hopes of the farm-to-school grant winners is the desire to make locally grown cafeteria food, and school lunches in general, enticing to middle school students in the Ft. Bragg, Willits and Ukiah area. “We call this the farm-to-cool grant,” said Carolyn Welch, chief financial officer of North Coast Opportunities, Inc., a Ukiah-based nonprofit that received a $100,000 grant.
The farm to school program “reduces neophobia – fear of new foods,” said Diana Abellera of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers.
Among some students, “it’s not cool to go to the cafeteria,” Welch said. But the grant program will provide field trips for students, families, teachers and food service employees to visit local educational farms, including Noyo Food Forest, she said. Seeing how broccoli, lettuce and other foods are grown, talking about recipes, taste-testing and perhaps even getting involved in planting seeds or puling weeds are ways to get students more interested in trying the school meals, she said.
Diana Abellera, chief operating officer of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, a Davis-based nonprofit, said this is one of the huge payoffs – the farm-to-school program “reduces neophobia – fear of new foods,” she said. The organization received a $25,000 grant to further its work with farm-to-school collaborations.
Another benefit is forging a connection between the local economy, families and schools. In California, more than $51 million in federal and state school meal funding was spent on locally produced foods in 2011-12, Abellera said. The state has 2,600 schools in more than 350 districts participating in farm-to-school programs, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey last year, she said.
“There has been a tremendous rise in the number of farm-to-school programs in the state,” Abellera said. The farm-to-school program began in California a decade ago, she said.
The programs can be divided into three categories – school gardens, farming and nutrition education, and cafeteria procurements, said Sharon Cech, regional food systems director for the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization based at Occidental College.
A nearly $100,000 grant to the Mid Klamath Watershed Council touches on two of those areas, with the goals of assisting schools that would like to install gardens and working with members of the Karuk Tribe to bring in traditional foods to schools in the Happy Camp Elementary School District and nearby.
While the grant amounts are relatively small, the impact of the programs on introducing new foods to students, and building relationships with farmers and communities, is significant, Cech said. “These are programs that can be flagship programs,” she said.