Schools will receive over $23M to buy direct from local farmers

Winters students show Congressman John Garamendi and USDA Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt strawberries growing in the school garden bed. (Crystal Apilado/Winters Express)

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Program aims in part to boost purchases from Solano, Yolo sources

Federal and state officials announced last Wednesday they have signed a cooperative agreement with California for more than $23 million to purchase products and foods from local farmers — to include producers in Solano and Yolo counties — to provide quality, nutritious school meals.

The Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement Program gives the California Department of Education the ability to purchase and distribute local and regional foods and beverages for schools in the state to serve children through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The products will be healthy and unique to each school’s geographic location, officials said. The big-picture goal is to improve child nutrition and build upon relationships between schools and local farmers.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt made the announcement at a gathering Wednesday at Waggoner Elementary School. Winters is her hometown and she attended Waggoner Elementary.

“As someone who was born and raised here in Winters, and as we talk about this new program that we have at USDA — bringing local food to schools, enhancing the ability of schools who are doing it already and enabling even more schools to do it — I couldn’t think of a more perfect community than to do it here in my hometown in Winters, which is an incredible, shining example,” Lester Moffitt said.

Interim Superintendent Phoebe Girimonte gave credit to Cathy Olsen, Director of Nutrition Services, and the Winters Farm to School team for their efforts to provide Winters students the opportunity to have a garden-to-table experience at school.

Winters student Iris Girimonte tells Jenny Moffitt Lester, USDA Under Secretary, about an herb growing in the school garden at Waggoner Elementary School. (Crystal Apilado/Winters Express)

“Their belief is we live in an agricultural region. We’re surrounded by opportunities to connect our children with the agricultural heritage of this area, and so you see that here in one of our school gardens. But, more importantly, you see it every day in our cafeterias,” Girimonte said. “So, despite the fact that we are small, and like many small school districts facilities can sometimes be a challenge — regardless of the facility in which she works — Cathy finds a way to make sure every child in this district goes home with food in their belly and sometimes they also have had access to a farmers market here at school. That’s something — that as we recover from the pandemic — we are working to rebuild.”

The money is intended to supplement efforts to allow schools to purchase food grown by local and regional farmers and ranchers for their breakfast and lunch meal programs.

In addition to creating new partnerships and relationships between schools and local farmers, Lester Moffitt said there is a goal to focus on creating an opportunity for small, underserved farmers to provide in their communities.

“One of our priorities — and we have many in this project — is that we’re not leaving behind, particularly, our underserved farmers and ranchers. We have a big focus on being able to procure from small, underserved farmers and ranchers so that more farmers and ranchers have the opportunity to sell to the kids in their community, many of their own kids in the community as well,” Lester Moffitt said.

California Department of Food and Agriculture Undersecretary Christine Birdsong said there is a high priority and importance in creating opportunities for local farmers to provide food for schools.

“These funds are going to make a real difference toward providing all of our California students equitable access to nutritious fruits and vegetables,” Birdsong said.

Birdsong said the agreement is a solid boost to the CDFA’s continuing efforts to build resilient local food systems that not only improve the local economy but work to establish connections between schools and local farmers and ranchers.

California Department of Education Food and Nutrition Services Director Kim Frinzell said more than 829 million school meals were served across the state last year. Frinzell said California continues to make historic investments not only into food and agriculture but also in the educational landscape by providing funds that go into the creation of kitchens at schools and providing training for nutrition staff to learn how to prepare fresh produce into meals the students would eat.

“All students have access to a breakfast and a lunch, each and every school day, but we all know it’s not just about a meal. It needs to be a delicious, nourishing, quality meal,” Frinzell said.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena), Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), and Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) were all in attendance and in support of the effort.

“With this cooperative agreement can you imagine what this is going to look like? Can you imagine that our children will have the best and the finest food that we’ve always wanted them to have? We’re not just opening up a can,” Aguiar-Curry said.

“It’s good food, and kids are going to learn about good, quality food. They’ll have the nutritional value that comes from it and they will learn about the importance of agriculture,” Thompson said.

Garamendi said the act of bringing locally grown food into schools not only provides nutritional value but also creates a stronger, more viable community by putting money back into the local economy.

Both Garamendi and Aguiar-Curry agreed they’d like to see pacts like the Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement be transformed into meal programs for the older adult and disadvantaged communities as well.

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