Program educates, provides healthy options

San Diego Unified School District’s Farm to School Program allows students to become excited about healthy foods, eat what they grow and have a deeper appreciation of where food originates.

Program educates, provides healthy options

Five Scripps Ranch schools grow and maintain gardens as part of San Diego Unified School District’s (SDUSD) Farm to School Program, which started 10 years ago and has become one of the most progressive Farm to School programs in the nation.

“This is a program that connects schools and local farms with the objective of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias,” said the district’s Food and Nutrition Marketing Coordinator Tara McNamara, adding that the intent is to “improve student nutrition, provide agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities.”

Throughout SDUSD, 104 schools have gardens, and 38 of those schools participate in the Garden to Café program, which allows the district to work closely with the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health to help schools establish and maintain gardens.

“School gardens are an important component of our Farm to School Program,” McNamara said. “The Garden to Café program helps increase school meal participation because students are more excited to take from the salad bar, and actually eat what they grew.”

In Scripps Ranch, Dingeman, Jerabek, Miramar Ranch elementary schools, as well as Marshall Middle School and Scripps Ranch High School, have school gardens.

Growing, harvesting, preparing and eating their own food allows students to connect with local farmers and have a deeper appreciation of where food originates.

“At its core, this program is about establishing relationships between local foods and school children by way of including local products in school meals, incorporating food-related curriculum in the classroom and providing development and experiential learning opportunities through school gardens, farm tours, virtual farm field trip videos and nutrition education,” McNamara said.

According to Farm to School Program Educator and Specialist Janelle Manzano, there is also a YouTube channel “where most of our consistent Harvest of the Month produce have a featured virtual field trip video that showcases the farm and interviews the farmer. Teachers are encouraged to show this to their students in the classroom.”

Manzano believes that the resources available to students participating in this program will develop a healthy curiosity for food.

“Our nutrition education program benefits students by giving them the basic tools and knowledge to better connect their food to their health – not only in the school café – but wherever and whenever they make food choices,” Manzano added.

Since 2010, nearly 4 million pounds of produce has been purchased from San Diego farms, and last year alone, SDUSD purchased more than $128,000 worth of local produce and an additional $1,575,963 of California produce outside of San Diego, McNamara said.

In addition to daily salad bars filled with local produce, every Wednesday schools feature a special Harvest of the Month item from a specific San Diego farmer – such as organic kumquats, persimmons and Minneola tangelos.

The district’s Farm to School program is unique and progressive, McNamara said, adding that it allows local students of all ages to discover the “bounty of this region.”

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