Ventura 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.
- Distribution can be a challenge, so explore a variety of options.
- Visit with local farmers to determine what products are grown in the area.
- Build collaboration - look for the benefits for both farmers and school food service.