From local farms to local schools

NEWS-LEDGER — MAY 30, 2012 —

By John Young, Yolo Co. Agricultural Commissioner and Sealer of Weights & Measures

Farm-to-School programs combine public health and agricultural marketing objectives with the potential to change the way young people eat, think about food and improve their health through development of life-long healthy eating habits.

Farm-to-School Yolo is a three-year program that will link YoloCounty agriculture with the National School Lunch Program,which is offered in YoloCounty to 38,000 students of whom, 65% are eligible for free and reduced meals, five days a week.

  Farm-to-School Yolo is working with school districts in YoloCounty to increase the amount of fresh, local produce offered in breakfast, lunch and after-school snacks in all five school districts and in the Yolo County Office of Education’s Head Start Preschool Program. Farm-to-School Yolo will not only increase the use of fresh, local produce, it will also teach students and staff where food comes from, who grew it and how it should be prepared for peak flavor and nutritional value.

Regrettably, Yolo County has an obesity rate of 26.1% in its Kindergarten-12th grade student population. Intervention is necessary starting with the meals that our most vulnerable young people are eating in our schools. Farm-to-School Yolo recognizes the role of agriculture as part of the solution to this public health issue.  Once fully implemented, Farm-to-School Yolo, working with local farmers, will provide the tools for school food service programs to serve increasingly healthy meals made from scratch, thus avoiding many of the hidden ingredients which contribute to obesity epidemic.

“Farm-to-School Yolo is a piece of the puzzle in building a local food economy, turning the tide of childhood obesity and reconnecting our residents to the land and the people who produce our food,” said Yolo County Board of Supervisors Chair Jim Provenza.

Farm-to-School Yolo is not a start-up.  It isan objective specifically called out in the Yolo County 2030 General Plan, adopted in November of 2009.  It also builds on the successful three-year Yolo Agricultural Marketing Initiative, completed in 2009 by local food, food policy and marketing experts Georgeanne Brennan and Ann Evans.

Recently, Farm-to-School Yoloconcluded a two-year development phase incorporating in its implementation plan the successes of the Davis and Winters Farm-to-School programs. A 60-member, multi-stakeholder Advisory Task Force, chaired by Delaine Eastin, former California Superintendent of Public Instruction, is now in place to facilitate program implementation.

“In Yolo County, we want to take the successful Farm-to-School program in Davis and expand it on a countywide scale,” said Chair Provenza. “We seek to be the model for California, connecting our food service directors to our farmers, bringing fresh, local produce to the plates of our YoloCounty children.”

  Ultimately, the program will deliver school food service professional development; grower/farmer assessment, training and development; menu and recipe templates; a feasibility study of a food hub through the Yolo County Food Bank; and private sector marketing and distribution linkages.

Farm-to-School programs  will contribute to the health of our children, farms, the environment, the economy and our communities.

Copyright News-Ledger 2012

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