North Coast Opportunities (NCO) has been chosen as one of 82 project sites to support this year through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm to School Program in Lake and Mendocino Counties which is an effort to better connect school cafeterias and students with local farmers and ranchers. The $100,000 grant will impact up to 2,000 Mendocino County middle school students across three school districts and four middle schools in Ukiah, Redwood Valley, Willits, and Fort Bragg. It will also support three educational farms in Mendocino County: Brookside School Farm and The Grange Farm School in Willits, and the Noyo Food Forest in Fort Bragg. The goals of the grant are to increase procurement and utilization of local produce in school meals, increase farm production capacity, and increase student participation in school meals.
“USDA is proud to support communities across the country as they plan and implement innovative farm to school projects,” said USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Community partners are coming together to ensure a bright and healthy future for students, local farmers, and ranchers. These inspiring collaborations create long-term benefits for students as they develop a meaningful understanding of where food comes from, and support our farmers and ranchers by expanding market opportunities for local and regional foods.”
During the 13-month project, Student Councils and after-school program participants will be engaged to ensure this is a student-directed effort. For example, students will conduct surveys and help coordinate peer-targeted marketing campaigns to promote school menus. Additionally, students and parents will learn about how food is grown by visiting educational farms for “Meet the Farmers” and “Family Farm Work Day” events. Students will also engage with their own food service staff through fun “Meet the Cooks” events at each school.
“This grant is a tremendous opportunity to connect with middle schoolers and show them just how cool food can be,” says Mendocino County Project Coordinator Megan Watson. “If we can continue to instill the values of eating healthy, local food that we start teaching in elementary school, we’ll have a much better chance of making sure these kids grow up with those values intact.”
In addition, with a Specialty Crop Block Grant from the CDFA, the Lake County Farm to School Project assesses school needs, upgrades kitchen equipment, and helps adapt kitchen space in Kelseyville Unified School District, Konocti Unified School District, Lakeport Unified School District, Middletown Unified School District, and Upper Lake Union Elementary School District.
The Lake County program works with local farmers to help them understand the needs of area schools, provide technical assistance to meet school purchasing requirements, and link farmers and food service directors to help create production schedules based on school needs.
For more information on Mendocino County Farm to School contact Megan Watson, Project Coordinator via email or call 707 467-3220. In Lake County contact Project Coordinator, Terre Logsdon via email or call 707 994-4474 ext 127.