‘Farm-to-School’ initiative puts fresh produce in classes
San Marcos district works with Redlands farmer to promote nutrition, better eating
Knob Hill Elementary School in San Marcos fifth graders shop for produce during a Farmers’ Market held at the school Wednesday. BILL WECHTER@
9:01 p.m., Nov. 22, 2012
SAN MARCOS — When you hear the popular phrase “farm to table,” it’s often in reference to a restaurant promoting a locally sourced menu, or to a farmers market.
Now the “farm to table” philosophy has caught on in education, including the San Marcos Unified School District. With the help of a Southern California farmer, it’s being used there to promote nutrition, encourage healthy eating, and get local produce on cafeteria trays.
San Marcos has made using local produce in its cafeterias a priority, said nutrition education supervisor Herbie Smith. As part of a wider “farm-to-school” initiative, the district’s nutrition education program works with farmer Bob Knight of Redlands, who visits San Marcos elementary schools with a mini farmers market, raising awareness among students about how fruits and vegetables get to their lunch trays.
“They put a face to the farmer,” Smith said. “It really creates that sense of excitement about the food.”
Under new National School Lunch Program guidelines, students buying a cafeteria meal must take a fruit or vegetable, “and we don’t want to see it go to waste,” he said.
The district’s nutrition education program reinforces the importance of local agriculture and educates students about the “super powers” of fruits and vegetables, Smith said.
“Whenever you see orange and red in a vegetable, grab it and eat it because it means it’s got lots of carotene, which means it’s good for night vision,” Knight told a group of fifth-graders during a recent visit to Knob Hill Elementary.
Knight, who owns Old Grove Oranges Inc., brought apples, carrots, zucchini, oranges and grapefruit with him to Knob Hill. He wowed the students when he showed them purple carrots, explaining that the root vegetable isn’t always orange and doesn’t always come in a bag. He squeezed the liquid out of a zucchini to show how it’s 95 percent water.
The students then received “farmer bucks” so they could fill their own bags of fresh produce to take home.
“They have to show everybody what they got,” Knight said. “It’s just so hands-on and infectious. Some kids really respond to shopping themselves and choosing and paying with their own money.”
Smith said Knight’s presentations help children understand the food cycle, “that food grows on a farm. (Knight) gets kids to understand the hard work that goes into producing food.”
Community Health Improvement Partners is the San Diego nonprofit collaborative whose programs — the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative and the Farm to School Task Force — help get local, healthy food to schools. Knight has worked with the task force for a little more than a year, and quickly realized that not only could he help educators and children, they could help him and his fellow small farmers. He helps get the products of about 30 small Southern California farmers to schools through a collective.
“I know how to grow things, but where (Community Health Improvement Partners) has come into play … (it) really helped us in terms of finding customers, and if we have customers, it helps us stay sustainable right here,” Knight said.
The district gets two to three produce deliveries a week, Smith said, and Knight will make an additional delivery if he has something different. The district has directed its produce distributor to pursue local providers, “so even where we’re not getting stuff from Bob, we’re able to source it as local as possible,” Smith said.
At its core, the Farm to School Task Force is connecting farmers to the people who eat, Knight said. It’s enabled him to shift the focus of his farm from trying to sell globally to local families.
It’s a message Knight shares with the students:
“Eating local is important to health because you’re keeping your community healthy.”