California State Congresswoman Introduces First Organic-to-School Pilot Program

flat lay photography of three tray of foods

Photo by Ella Olsson on Pexels.com

California has always been at the forefront of change in the food movement. It’s the state that first passed organic regulations in 1990 and birthed the first certifier, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF).

The first Farm-to-School projects also sprang forth in the Golden State in 1997, at Santa Monica-Malibu United School District and The Edible Schoolyard  in Berkeley.

At long last, both Farm-to-School and Organic-to-School may come together. On February 21st, Assembly Member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry introduced AB 958 which would create the first-ever Organic-to-School pilot program in California.

If passed the bill would set up a pilot competitive grant program offering school districts up to 15 cents extra funding per meal for purchasing California-grown organic foods.

This first of its kind Pilot Program would be administered by the Secretary of Food and Agriculture, through the Office of Farm to Fork.

The Office of Farm to Fork is tasked with helping all Californians have access to healthy and nutritious California-grown food. They connect school districts and community members directly with California’s farmers and ranchers. This bill would, for the first time, provide a focus on organic food and farmers.

The money would come from programs already in place to provide grants for school districts to purchase California organic food products for school meals.

The secretary will work with the State Department of Education to determine the recipients and amounts of grants awarded under the program. The bill stipulates that the secretary awards at least five grants under the pilot program.

What’s unique is that each school district will be encouraged to purchase organic foods that are from socially disadvantaged farmers and from those who offer educational opportunities on their farm. There will be a preference for local producers and products that are in-season based on the local growing region.

School districts receiving grants under the program will be required to submit outcome reports, and the Secretary of Agriculture will be required to report those outcomes back to the legislature.

Implementation will be contingent on an appropriation being made for its purposes by the Legislature in the annual Budget Act or another statute.

The text of the bill goes on to state that “California grows food for the nation, and more organic produce than any other state, but many low-income communities in California do not have an adequate food supply of their own. Cost and availability issues prevent many of California’s low-income communities from accessing organic food.”

imagesCongresswoman Aguiar-Curry believes that “School meals with organic foods offer benefits for health, the environment, and California’s economy by increasing access to organic food for low-income children, decreasing pesticide exposure, increasing climate resilience, and growing the organic market for California farmers.”

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) is a sponsor of the legislation. Their goal is to set up a program that offers multiple benefits: from reducing pesticide exposure in vulnerable populations, to creating new and stable markets for organic farmers to have the state once again support producers that prioritize soil health and climate-friendly farming.

“More organic food in schools will mean less pesticide exposure for California’s most vulnerable children,” says Lena Brook, Director of Food Campaigns at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“It also means fewer farmworkers exposed to toxic pesticides, more protection for honeybees and other pollinators, and more climate-friendly farms. Healthy, sustainably-grown, food should be available to everyone, and especially to California’s public-school students. AB 958 leads the way toward a better food system for all, from farm to fork.”

The organic foods industry has experienced phenomenal growth in recent years, climbing from U.S. sales of less than $4 billion in 1997 to more than $50 billion in 2018.

California produces 38 percent of the country’s organic farmgate value. Sales of organic commodities and processed foods in California totaled $14.55 billion in 2017.

Yet, many of the school children who are surrounded by this bounty of California organic food and farming don’t have access to organic food at school.

California’s organic farmers will have new and steady markets into their local communities if this bill reaches fruition.

The proposed bill may be heard in committee on April 10th, 2019, and I’ll be sure to watch this one closely.

You can sign your name in support of this bill here.

Scientific literature shows that organic stimulates California’s economy, ensures a long-term food supply that promotes public health, and protects the natural resources that humans depend upon for nourishment and safe living conditions.

Access to organic food should not be a privilege in this land of plenty.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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