USDA Farm to School Team Site Visit
Unified School District in Ventura, California
Hands shoot up and votes are cast—the
yellow watermelon wins this round of the student taste test. Thanks to the hard
work of school staff and community partners, student events like this taste test
take place throughout the school year. These events give students a chance to
try new fruits and vegetables and learn about where their food comes from.
On September 14-15, 2010, the USDA Farm to
School Team traveled to Ventura Unified School District in Ventura County,
California to learn firsthand about their Farm to School activities. Over the
two-day visit, the Team met with the school food service director and staff,
teachers, farmers, distributors, nonprofit partners and district administrators;
each providing a distinct perspective on the district’s Farm to School efforts.
Ventura Unified School District serves the
City of Ventura, California, located roughly 60 miles north of the City of Los
Angeles. In school year 2009-2010, the district enrolled approximately 17,000
students and served an average of 7,000 lunches per day. Roughly forty percent
of the students at Ventura Unified School District are eligible for free or
reduced priced meals.
The district’s Farm to School activities
started in 1999 when a school board member, a local farmer, and a parent were
interested in introducing local produce into the school system to help students
make the connection with healthy eating and agriculture. To support this
effort, a group convened to discuss the potential partnering and organization of
Farm to School activities. The meeting was attended by the district’s
foodservice director, local farmers, school administrators and parents. In the
beginning the district started with one salad bar in one school, now all 25
schools in the district offer a salad bar.
Ventura Unified School District purchases
local food items directly from local farmers and through their local produce
distributor. The distributor further assists the district by providing colorful
marketing materials describing the local farmers, their farms and seasonality of
the crops. The district has locally purchased items such as apples, avocados,
berries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, citrus, collard
greens, cucumber, grapes, green beans, kale, kiwi, lettuce, melons, nectarines,
onions, peaches, pears, peppers, potatoes, snow peas, spinach, tomatoes,
zucchini and grains.
Grant funds help support Farm to School
related educational activities, giving students opportunities to take field
trips to nearby farms and to participate in nutrition and cooking classes. The
district also has a number of school gardens, in which they use garden-based
curricula which is linked to the State’s core subjects and approved by the
California Department of Education.
The Food and Nutrition Services Director,
Sandy Curwood, and a few farmers the Team met with offered the following tips
for successful partnering:
- Schools and
farmers should not reinvent the wheel. Look for existing examples.
can be a challenge, so explore a variety of options.
- Visit with
local farmers to determine what products are grown in the area.
collaboration - look for the benefits for both farmers and school food