My little cousin Morgan is a bit of a tomato bandit. A girl after my own heart, the call of fresh garden tomatoes is so strong that while others are playing she can be found munching tomatoes in her family's garden. I love watching Morgan and my other little cousins Jordan and Timmy eat. Their plates are always colorful and filled with fresh fruits and vegetables.
So are the plates of students receiving lunches at Ventura Unified School District. Not only does the district, which serves 17, 321 students of which almost 7,000 receive free/reduced cost lunches, source most of their food service produce from local farms but they also have a comprehensive "Healthy Schools Project." The Healthy Schools Project "provides learning opportunities for students to make healthy choices through a variety of hands-on experiences. Classroom lessons are standards-based and include label reading, making good food choices, and cooking. Students learn to recognize the link between food production and consumption by participating in school gardening activities. Exploring nature and gaining real world learning in math and science are two additional and important components of school gardens." http://www.venturausd.org/childnutrition/healthyschoolsproject.htm
So, kids experience growing produce in school gardens, are provided with ample opportunities to link their knowledge across the academic content areas while learning about food systems, and they get to eat the produce they've grown and learned about in their cafeterias (developing life-long positive eating habits). Meanwhile local farmers have a consistent channel to distribute their produce. Kids learn and eat healthfully while supporting a healthy and viable economic relationship between local schools and local farms.
The Abundant Table Farm Project is part a the Ventura County Food Justice Coalition. One of our goals is to bring local, quality food into our schools. The ATFP is focusing on Hueneme Unified School District and Pleasant Valley School District in Camarillo.
I was disheartened to learn that PVSD does not prepare any food at any of their school sites. Their food is trucked in prepared and packaged, food is only warmed and served to kids. When I checked PVSD's lunch menu on-line, the only fresh items, pears, banana, oranges, and apples on the daily menu were asterisked meaning they were "subject to change." http://www.pvsd.k12.ca.us/164110511599280/lib/164110511599280/Pleasant_Valley_SD_LN.xls_Sept_k-5.pdf
In my dream world, a world that exists only five exits down the freeway in Ventura, Join the Farm! would be part of a growers collaborative that directly supplies my surrounding schools with fresh, local produce for quality, healthful school lunches.
In my dream wold, this program would be so wildly successful that school districts would band together and create a unified school menu and combine purchasing power to grow the farmers collaborative and a farm to school program.
In my dream world, Join the Farm! and the other farms in the growers collaborative work with teachers and schools to plan educational visits to the schools and to the farm to develop students who not only learn about eating healthfully, farming, and food systems but gain real-world knowledge in all the academic content areas. Think of how farming is connected to migration patterns (history), creating bed shapes that maximize water and sun (geometry), developing marketing literature (language arts), etc!
In my dream world, food service workers are not limited to opening cans and cutting apart packaging. They are trained with more emphasis on long-term integrated culinary skills, e.g. knife skills, knowledge of seasonal menus, compost management (ha! cafeteria food waste is composted and turned into beautiful soil for those school gardens!).
If my dream world is a reality in Ventura, we can make it happen where I am and where you are.
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