- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
The University of California Cooperative Extension and its community partners have received nearly $500,000 from the California Department of Food and Agriculture to expand farm to school projects. The CDFA Office of Farm to Fork's 2021 California Farm to School Incubator Grant Program has awarded $8.496 million in grants to 60 farm-to-school projects throughout the state, including the following two UC Cooperative Extension projects.
Tuolumne Agricultural Connections Project
UC Cooperative Extension in the Central Sierra received $248,457 to work on the “Tuolumne Agricultural Connections Project” with Jamestown Elementary School District, Office of Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools, Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Center, Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office and local farmers.
UC Cooperative Extension Central Sierra will work with the sheriff's office to expand an existing farm education center on land owned by the county detention center, to provide educational opportunities for public school students and juvenile detention center students.
“We're really excited to offer more learning opportunities for young people in Tuolumne County,” said JoLynn Miller, director of UC Cooperative Extension in the Central Sierra. “At the farm, we will be able to teach students about growing food with hands-on activities and field trips and provide incarcerated residents with job training.”
UCCE and the Sheriff's Office plan to start a sustainable egg-laying operation to supply public schools and other public institutions with locally produced eggs. At the juvenile detention center, UCCE will provide monthly gardening and cooking lessons to juveniles. UCCE also will support school gardens through the School Garden Network and expand Harvest of the Month education and tastings to more public schools and to the juvenile detention center. School food service directors will get help increasing procurement of California-grown foods for their menus to reinforce the Harvest of the Month education. Through Kids' Day at the Market events, they plan to introduce public school students to farmers markets as places to buy healthy foods.
Local sourcing of food across Los Angeles
In Los Angeles County, the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College received a $250,000 grant. Occidental College is partnering with Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles County Office of Education, Adventist Health Glendale Foundation, Big Green, Enrich LA, Garden School Foundation, Los Angeles Food Policy Council, National Health Foundation, Sage Garden Project, Seeds to Plate, Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles and UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County.
The “Farm to Classroom: Sourcing Local for Farm to School Education Across Los Angeles” project will help farm-to-school educators purchase fresh produce from local farmers markets for in-class taste tests, garden lessons and recipe demonstrations. They will also offer teachers farm-to-classroom educational materials on food systems, farmers and agriculture, featured produce items and nutrition.
"We are thrilled and excited to be a partner on the project,” said Keith Nathaniel, UCCE director and 4-H youth development advisor in Los Angeles County. “Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County is poised to provide quality educational materials that support the farm to school learning continuum for young people. Cooperative Extension will continue to build on its expertise to develop relevant impactful materials designed to engage learners to meet their educational outcomes."
A “Los Angeles Harvest of the Month” calendar will be designed for Los Angeles Unified Food Services and be available to others in Los Angeles County to use. The calendar will feature local produce items that are highlighted in the educational materials and available to buy through a purchasing app. Coordination between school food services and teachers will help Los Angeles Unified align their lessons and garden planting schedules with foods offered in the cafeteria. The project team plans to launch a pilot of the program at select Title 1 schools, then analyze evaluation data from the pilot program and modify the program model as needed before sharing it with farm to school educators across LA County and offering an accompanying training.
The California Farm to School Incubator Grant Program focuses on supporting local and regional farm to school projects that promote nutrition education, sustainable food production and procurement, and high-quality student engagement through experiential learning.
- Author: Deepa Srinivasan
- Contributor: Mariana Lopez
Lin Fraker graduated from the Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program in Tulare County after completing the four-week virtual curriculum, UCCE Connects 2U. Online classes were led by Mariana Lopez, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educator.
After participating in the plan, shop and save lesson in the second class,Fraker shared that she had made a grocery list and found that it helped her save money when she went grocery shopping. She had never made a list before, and when she planned her week's menu and made a grocery list, she saw that her usual bill of almost $200 per shopping trip went down to $89! Even making small changes in grocery shopping practices can make a big impact.
In the video below, Lopez converses with Fraker, who expresses her enthusiasm for the EFNEP class in Tulare County and wants to share the information with her mother-in-law to improve her health.
- Author: Ricardo A. Vela
The CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Program, administered through UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE), works with ethnic communities to transform their environment by implementing a community garden. UCCE created three gardens in partnership with community organizations in an equal number of neighborhoods located in this populous county.
In the first one, adults and minors dug and planted seeds and various vegetable plants in a community garden located in Riverside's popular Latino neighborhood. The vegetable garden has brought people in this low-resource community together to address healthy food access and learn about healthy eating and nutrition.
Gonzalo Rodríguez, an active member of the Community Settlement Association, said, "We planted pepper plants, tomatoes and little seeds. Vegetables are an excellent food for us, and another thing that keeps children off the streets and helps them understand the process while having fun taking care of their plants."
The garden in this thriving Latino community has grown over the years and is now a place for families to get together to celebrate healthy living. Educating food-insecure families of different ethnicity, the importance of having a vegetable garden, and how to grow your own food is a goal of the CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Program, and UCCE in Riverside County.
The second garden is located on what used to be a vacant lot in the Riverside Faith Temple under Pastor Duane Sims' supervision, who spoke about his vision. "I would like to see it a complete food force, a source of food that won't cost anybody anything, and something for people that don't have anything to do, a place to put their hands in the dirt and accomplish something."
These community gardens collaborate with several programs from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and partner with ethnic organizations to combat the poor eating habits that result in obesity, chronic diseases, and sometimes premature death.
"We're trying to get low-income families to eat more vegetables, and the best way to do this is to encourage them to plant their own fruits and vegetables in an orchard, and that's why we're promoting community gardens," said Chutima Ganthavorn, UCCE nutrition specialist in Riverside County.
Adela Torres and her children are involved in the project with the Community Settlement Association in Riverside. "It's beneficial for the children because they are fresh fruits or things that we can have at home," she said.
Ganthavorn reaffirmed the UCCE and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC's commitment to helping ethnic communities live a healthier diet. "We know that many people's diets today are fast food and soft drinks, and they are not consuming fruits and vegetables. We need to eat almost nine portions of fruits and vegetables a day, and most of us aren't getting close to that level. We are trying to encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially vegetables because they contain many nutrients and many health benefits," she said.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
The first study of California law that requires schools to test tap water for lead found that the majority completed the testing on time, and only 3% reported any tested taps with lead in the water higher than the state's 15 parts per billion (ppb) limit. About 30% of the 240 randomly selected public schools in the study didn't report their results within three months of the deadline.
The study, Water Safety in California Public Schools Following Implementation of School Drinking Water Policies, was published in the January issue of Preventing Chronic Disease, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online publication.
“Because we strongly encourage people to drink water rather than sugary beverages, we need to have confidence that tap water is safe,” she said. “But this is a complex issue with shared responsibility among public water systems, school administrators and regulating agencies.”
Access to safe drinking water in schools is essential to help avoid the developmental and health consequences for children associated with consuming contaminated water, under hydration or excessive intake of sugary beverages.
Schools that get water from public utilities can expect the water they receive to meet federal and state water quality standards. However, 16% of study schools received water from a utility that violated health-based standards, such as elevated levels of contaminants or failure to adhere to disinfectant protocols. When water flows into buildings through pipes that contain lead – such as those made entirely of lead, or galvanized iron or leaded brass, or connected with lead solder – and especially when water sits stagnant in lead-containing plumbing, lead may leach into the water before it flows from the tap.
In October 2017, California passed Assembly Bill 746, which mandated that public water utilities sample and test for lead in tap water of public schools that were built before 2010. The law is designed to identify and mitigate sources of lead in water. Funds to upgrade school drinking-water plumbing were also earmarked in the state budget. Working with their local water suppliers, the schools selected taps for sampling. The number of taps that released water with lead was very low, and even those sources are not necessarily unhealthy for drinking, Hecht said.
“When we test tap water, we're not talking about every drop of water that comes from the tap,” she said. “We test the first water that comes out of the tap after it has been stagnant in the pipes. Once the taps are in use and water is flowing, the lead level should drop dramatically.”
Although few schools (3%) had even one tap in violation of California state standards for lead, violations increased to 16% when the federal Food and Drug Administration standard for bottled water was applied. The FDA requires that bottled water not exceed 5 ppb of lead.
The 174 schools in the study collectively tested 1,238 independent water sources – such as playground, hallway and gym drinking fountains, classroom faucets, food service areas and restroom taps in 2019. Some of the tests took place in locations that serve staff, such as teachers' lounges, nurses' stations, distribution sources and maintenance areas. Without detailed guidelines to follow, some schools tested only 1 tap; others tested as many as 76.
“Testing only a subset of taps in a facility prevents full identification of which schools need to undertake lead remediation actions,” Hecht said.
Hecht and her co-authors – Isioma Umunna, Anisha Patel and Lauren Blacker of Stanford University, Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, and Emily Altman of UC Berkeley – conclude that, in the future, states should require schools to test to nondetectable levels of lead for maximum data collection and require that at least one water source in food service areas be tested.
The information and recommendations from the study are already informing California legislation designed to protect children from lead exposure from water. A new law, Assembly Bill 2370, will require all licensed childcare centers to test taps for lead by 2021 and every 5 years thereafter. The inconsistencies experienced in AB 746 compliance revealed the need for detailed guidelines on the number of taps facilities should test, the required locations for testing, clear naming conventions to identify taps and reporting procedures.
- Author: Deepa Srivastava
The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) in Tulare County conducted virtual nutrition education and cooking demonstration classes last fall, empowering families to support their health with knowledge and skills to adopt healthy behaviors. The training covered nutrition/physical activity, food resource management, food security and food safety.
Step 1: EFNEP integrated virtual food demonstration in nutrition education classes
EFNEP Tulare collaborated with Native American Tribal organizations and Tulare Adult School to provide virtual food demonstration classes integrated with nutrition education to parents with children. Mariana Lopez, bilingual EFNEP adult nutrition educator, led the classes in English and Spanish in four 60- to 90-minute sessions over four weeks.
Step 2. Planning, preparation and implementation of virtual food demonstration
Community partners provided the ingredients to the participants. Lopez found ways to make the virtual food demonstration successful by planning and preparing ahead of time. Participants engaged in hands-on learning about cost-effective cooking at home. Participants learned about food planning, budgeting and shopping, healthy foods, food safety practices and physical activity.
Step 3. Family engagement during virtual food demonstration
Lopez conducted virtual nutrition education classes with 48 families; 38 families graduated.
Community partners expressed their gratitude and willingness to continue with the collaboration.
“The participants really enjoyed the class and wished it was longer. They looked forward to meeting each week and getting their food and cooking together with the nutrition teacher and their families.” - site manager
Participants engaged their families to enjoy the virtual food demonstration classes.
“Thank you. Class was fun being able to cook with my girls and I learned so much.”
~ class participant
Overall, EFNEP Tulare created excitement with virtual nutrition education classes through food demonstrations, promoted family engagement, strengthened community partnerships, and empowered families to be resourceful, eat healthy on a budget and live a healthy lifestyle.