Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Many students getting most of their daily nutrition from school meals

If you saw this article by David Sarasohn in The Oregonian you may have been saddened and surprised to learn that many children are only able to get adequate, nutricious food at school.  This illustrates why we need more funds and more programs to help support good food in our schools. 

"When the kids came back from spring break, they were starving," Shelly Drury says. "They wanted seconds, they wanted thirds. My principal was saying, 'We need to cook more food.' " 

If Shelly Drury is at one end of the school lunch pipeline, Tom Harkin, chairman of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, is at the other. Reauthorizations -- and budgets -- go past the Iowa Democrat, and he has plans. "We'd love to get it up $1 billion a year," said Harkin in an interview earlier this month. "We could use more money. If we want to get better food for our kids, it costs money."

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Proposal to Separate Fast Food and Schools

The New York Times recently featured an article linking the tendency to be overweight with the location of fast food restaurants in a tenth of a mile or one block radius of the schools. 
The study looked at weight rates in teens and pregnant women who lived near such resteraunts and found location to be detremental in both cases. Now Eric Giola, a city councilman from Queens wants to use the California study to ban fast food establishments from opening so close to schools.

"Immediate proximity played a crucial role in obesity, according to the report, the Effect of Fast Food Restaurants on Obesity, by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Columbia University. If a fast-food restaurant opened a quarter-mile or more from a school, obesity rates were not affected."

Friday, April 17, 2009

The enormous impact of buying local

What are the benefits of using local food sources for schools?
We may just be scratching the surface of understanding the potential advantages according to a study being conducted by Ecotrust and Oregon State University. Preliminary results show that money spent on such programs has great implications in the community. In fact, they estimate that every dollar spent in a grant from Kaiser Permanente to two local school districts resulted in $1.87 of economic activity that reverberated throughout most sectors of the economy, not just in the agricultural industries.
That’s because a multiplier effect includes the impact of buying local food as well as the impact of those food suppliers spending the cash on materials and services in turn. When Portland and Gervais school districts were given funds through a grant from Kaiser they were motivated to reallocate those funds to the local economy. Whereas previously they may have been able to buy food a bit more cheaply, they hadn’t always been able to buy local. With the grant they bought local, sometimes paying slightly more, but the result was a huge boost to the local economy. According to the article in Capital Press Agricultural News, the $66,200 grant generated a total of $225,900.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Learning to live healthy

Are the kids in your school talking about salad and raspberry dressing before lunch? That’s what’s happening at Veterans Memorial Elementary in North Naples. This school decided to plant a school garden so the students could plant and grow their own food. The goals, to save money and educate children about healthy food, have been met with enthusiasm on the part of all.
The program was suggested by a mother and seconded by the whole community. The children are proud to raise their own food and are learning good nutrition by living the experience. They get fresh, wholesome food in their cafeteria. The hands-on experience of working in their own garden builds self confidence from achieving through hard work and an understanding of delayed gratification. It is also a godsend economically in times when all school budgets are tight.
According to an article about the school and its program in the Macro Eagle, about 60% of the students chose salad for lunch on the day the reporter visited the school. The school sought advice and partnership in the endeavor from their school district, master gardeners and a local foundation. The children benefit by an increased desire to learn about the science related to growing food, time spent outside working in the garden and healthy food.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Five winners announced in "Kids are Growing"

This year’s winning schools for the “Kids are Growing” contest sponsored by the International Greenhouse Co, Washington State Potato Commission, PCC Natural Markets and King 5 were Concordia Lutheran in Tacoma, Graham Hill Elementary in Seattle, Cedarhurst Elementary in Burien, Rainier Elementary in Rainier and Explorer Community School in Redmond.
Each school had to complete an entry binder that detailed what a greenhouse would do for them: how they would use it and what they could learn from it. They also had to submit an original, healthy potato recipe.
The prizes for each school were an 8’x 8’ EasyGrow greenhouse kit, a $1000 grant from the Washington State Potato Commission, and a $500 grant and garden supplies from PCC Natural Markets.
The winning schools will use these prizes to grow food for school lunches and community food banks and to learn about healthy food choices and how food grows.

Stimulus Package Grant Opportunity for WA Schools to Buy Kitchen Equipment

There’s an exciting current opportunity for schools to get grants to purchase kitchen equipment that can make it easier for them to prepare, store and serve more locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables.

One of the big barriers for buying from farms is the lack of equipment and available staff time for preparing, storing and serving fresh food. To save labor cost and time, most buy fresh foods already chopped, diced, shredded and bagged—ready to go straight into soup or onto the salad bar. Many don’t even have the option of a salad bar because refrigeration and salad bar service equipment is too costly. Farms often don’t have equipment or time for processing either, so most school food is ordered through distributors after the food has traveled around for processing and may come from very far away. Using the funds from the stimulus package can help schools who wish to buy direct from farms and do more preparation in-house. This is a great time to contact your local school with a positive message and encourage them to apply for equipment to support them in preparing and serving food from Washington farms! Call your local school and ask to speak to the i-grants administrator, the food service manager at the school or the nutrition director for the district.

The economic stimulus package provides $100 million for school food service equipment grants, which can fund new freezers, salad bars, milk coolers, etc. Priority will be given to school food authorities (SFAs) in which at least 50 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals. Grants will be made no later than June 8, 2009, and the deadline for school districts to apply is May 1st.

For this grant, the definition of eligible equipment is “articles of nonexpendable, tangible personal property with a useful life of more than one year and a per unit acquisition cost of $5,000 (or such lesser amount as the SFA uses when reporting equipment as assets in its financial statements).”

From the USDA Memo on the grant:

“In order to make the most effective use of the NSLP equipment assistance grant funds, when developing the application process, State agencies should incorporate one or more of the following four focus areas:

• Equipment that lends itself to improving the quality of school foodservice meals that meet the dietary guidelines. (e.g., purchasing an equipment alternative to a deep fryer),
• Equipment that improves the safety of food served in the school meal programs. (e.g., cold/hot holding equipment, dish washing equipment, refrigeration, milk coolers, freezers, blast chillers, etc.),
• Equipment that improves the overall energy efficiency of the school foodservice operation (e.g. purchase of an energy-efficient walk in freezer replacing an outdated, energy demanding freezers.
• Equipment that allows SFAs to support expanded participation in a school meal program (e.g., equipment for serving meals in a non-traditional setting or to better utilize cafeteria space)

State agencies may opt to propose alternate or additional focus areas, but must submit the
proposal to FNS for prior approval.”

Some of you may have received a notice about adding a focus area for encouraging local food in this grant. (Wisconsin and Michigan got USDA approval to add this as a 5th focus area: "Equipment that enables Wisconsin schools to use locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables.”) We were unsuccessful in getting language added in Washington, simply due to time constraints in getting approval from our Western District USDA office. While it is disappointing not to have this encouragement written into the grant, there is no reason this goal cannot be met within the original 4 focus areas. I know that George Sneller, State Child Nutrition Director, and others at OSPI are supportive of the Washington grown programs in schools.

(The link above goes to the USDA Memo on 2009 Equipment Assistance Grants for School Food Authorities)

I hope this email gives you the information you need to support your school in improving their infrastructure for serving healthy fresh foods, grown in Washington to improve the quality of food served and increase participation in school meal programs.

If you have questions or need advice on approaching your school staff or sharing the message, feel free to contact us here at the WSDA Farm-to-School Program:

Ann Cooper's Message to Dr. Janey Thornton

Ann Cooper, the chef behind the famous school food reform in Berkeley, CA, has written at about the new USDA appointee for Food and Nutrition Service Department, Dr. Janey Thornton. She's not too optimistic about Dr. Thornton's track record as a nutrition services director in Kentucky, but has some recommended revisions the National School Lunch Program:
  • Make meals, both breakfast and lunch universal, a system where every child is fed every day.
  • Replace the current system of tracking menus by nutrients, to one where the guidelines are based on healthy, delicious balanced meals. These meals should consist in large part of fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and whole grains, and should include plant based protein.
  • Replace the definition of nutritious food, on which the current system is based, to one that defines and is based on real FOOD. (See full definition below.)
  • Raise the federal reimbursement rate to $4.00 - $5.00, based on the cost of living of the geographical area, and dedicate a minimum of $1.75 to be spent on food. Additionally, dedicate at least $1.00 be spent on fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and whole grains with a priority placed on procuring regionally produced food.
  • Dedicate resources to building or rebuilding kitchens in school districts to accommodate scratch cooking.
  • Dedicate resources to set-up a training program to teach school food service workers to cook from scratch.
  • Set-up a National Culinary Cooks Corp which allows culinary students to work off student loans by working in K-12 schools.
  • Institute hands-on experiential learning in the form of cooking and gardening classes that become a mandatory part of the educational system.
  • Dedicate resources to a National marketing campaign to help change children’s relationship to food, so that healthy/delicious school food becomes cool food.
  • Underscore the importance of eating healthy food by instituting questions on the SAT tests that highlight sustainable food and agriculture.
Chef Ann Cooper also outlines some general principles that she hopes Dr. Thornton will consider:
Healthful Food is wholesome.
• Includes whole and minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy, meats, fish, and poultry.
• Contains naturally occurring nutrients (e.g., vitamins, minerals, phyto-nutrients).
• Is produced without added hormones or antibiotics.
• Is processed without artificial colors or flavors or unnecessary preservatives.

Healthful Food is produced, processed, and transported in a way that prevents the exploitation of farmers, workers, and natural resources, and the cruel treatment of animals. The process of healthful food production:
• Upholds the safety and quality of life of all who work to feed us.
• Treats all animals humanely.
• Protects the finite resources of soil, water, air, and biological diversity.
• Supports local and regional farm and food economies.
• Replaces fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.

Healthful Food should be available, accessible, and affordable to everyone.
• Is distributed equitably among all communities.
• Is available and emphasized in children’s environments such as childcare, school and after-school settings.
• Is promoted within institutions and workplaces, in cafeterias, vending machines and at meetings and events
• Is reflective of the natural diversity found in traditions and cultures.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Make the connection with Farmers Markets

An article in the Bend Weekly demonstrates how local schools have been able to take advantage of the farmer's market to find new opportunities to establish relationships with local producers. This may be a fantastic way to connect with local farmers and to learn about what products they will have available shortly. (Bend Weekly)

Federal School Food Vending Standards Being Considered

According to an article in, Rethinking School Vending Machines, Senator Harkin has raised the issue of updating the nutrition standards for food sold in schools that is not part of the USDA reimbursable lunch or breakfast programs. He'd like to see rules on these "competitive foods" put into the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization currently under consideration. (The current Act expires in September 2009 and they are working on its replacement.)
In his opening statement, Harkin argued, “We know from surveys and common experience that the majority of our schools offer children ready access to heavily sweetened beverages, highly salted snacks, sugary and high-fat goods, and candy…We know from research what any parent understands from common sense—that junk food obtained from vending machines, snack bars, school stores, or à la carte lines is far less nutritious and far less nutritionally balanced than meals that meet USDA standards.” Unlike USDA-sponsored meals, none of all those other foods and beverages sold in schools needs to meet nutrition standards.

Harkin and others are arguing that these foods should be required to meet the same nutrition standards as lunch and breakfast. (Note: there are also efforts underway in the school food and health community to update those USDA school meal nutrition guidelines, pointing out that those are not strong enough and do not line up with the most up-to-date Dietary Guidelines for All Americans.)

But the idea is not without its opponents:
Testifying on behalf of the National School Boards Association, Reggie Felton urged the Committee to “refrain from enacting legislation that would further restrict the authority and flexibility of local school boards.” Felton also said that “Such restrictions would in all likelihood increase student purchases beyond school grounds, and could potentially “increase misunderstandings and complaints from parents regarding the banning of certain foods” while allowing others.