With an $80 million proposed increase aimed at giving schools much needed resources to improve meal programs, Governor Newsom’s proposed 2020-21 budget offers California public school students a better chance to learn and thrive. The brand-new Farm-to-School Grant Program also unveiled Friday presents California farmers with important new market prospects and our students opportunities to forge stronger ties to food and farms. These investments not only advance healthier meals, they also reflect the immense value of school food service workers and the positive impact of farmer-direct sourcing on local economies.
This is all especially welcome news given the Trump Administration’s 2019 rollbacks of Obama-era school nutrition improvements as well as its attack on the SNAP program, both actions that exacerbate hunger and have harmful and lasting impacts on the health, educational achievement, and well-being of California’s children. I am grateful that our state is planning to do the exact opposite by doubling down on our commitment to healthier food for kids.
I was also heartened to see that Governor Newsom’s budget expressly states that these Farm-to-School grants are intended to foster sustainable agriculture in California. It is my hope that organic agriculture will be at the center of California’s pivot toward climate-friendly and healthier farming strategies. After all, organic production already serves as an umbrella solution for many of the intersecting challenges facing our food system. It eschews the use of toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that harm the health of communities, air, water and soil. It prioritizes regenerative practices like cover cropping, crop rotation and others that nourish soil and trap carbon. With California farmers producing nearly 40% of overall organic farm sales in the United States, it also offers critical economic benefits to farmers.
In 2019, Assembly Member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) introduced AB 958, which would have created the first-ever Organic-to-School pilot program in the country. The pilot intended to help schools purchase more California-produced organic food, offering up to 15 cents in additional reimbursement per meal for qualifying schools. Though the bill did not make it to the Governor’s desk, it was supported by a robust coalition of over 100 farmers, school leaders, and advocates from the public health, sustainable agriculture and environmental communities.
AB 958 recognized that school food is an especially important source of nourishment for low-income students and that low-income communities across the state are not only burdened disproportionately by toxic pesticide use but also often bear the brunt of climate change-related impacts. California’s food system must to evolve to be predominantly regenerative rather than extractive, to center the health of communities and the environment rather than leave them behind, and to support emerging and socially disadvantaged farmers rather than maintaining the status quo. There is no better place to start than with healthier food for kids.
I am thrilled that Governor Newsom and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom are hearing this important call to action.