The State of Farm to School in Orange County

Written by: Jerry Rivero, MPL
Program Manager | OC Food Access Coalition

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As we get ready to celebrate National Farm to School Month, it’s impossible to think about farm to school on a national scale without honoring the contributions that regional organizations have made to the movement. The Orange County Food Access Coalition (OCFAC) works on such efforts through the development of innovative, community based strategies focused on ending hunger and improving the nutritional wellbeing of underserved communities in the county.

OCFAC has the vision of creating access to healthy, local food options for Orange County’s most nutritionally vulnerable residents by working to transform the food system. Orange County is home to a diverse population of 3.1 million people – 43% are White, 34% are Latino, 19% are Asian, and 1.4% are African American. Though often considered a very affluent county, the reality is that 12 of the 34 cities within the county have been identified as low-performing in relation to national, state and regional indicators. Additionally, chronic disease rates are high. In fact, a recent study found diabetes to be the 8th leading cause of death overall in the county, 5th among Latinos, and 6th among Asians and Pacific Islanders. This shows the imminent need for more widespread chronic disease prevention efforts.

In November 2013, we developed a Farm to School (F2S) Task Force with three specific objectives: 1) Increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables amongst K-12 students 2) Connect students with the source of their food through food literacy programs and 3) Increase procurement of local food.

In order to better understand the current state of farm to school in Orange County, the Task Force surveyed all 27 local school districts and produced The State of Farm to School in Orange County, 2014-2015 District Report to discuss their findings and next steps in growing F2S throughout Orange County. Impressively, these survey results indicate that 100% of school districts in Orange County participate in one or more F2S activities. Of these, local food procurement is the most common with 16 of the 27 districts purchasing locally. In second are salad bars in school cafeterias with 14 districts maintaining those. Close behind, 12 districts participate in Harvest of the Month programming.

These surveys also assessed perceived barriers to local purchasing. The foremost concern school districts identified was the coordination and regularity of local produce deliveries. After that, they cited difficulties with processing such produce either due to staffing, equipment, or storage limitations.

We believe that increasing awareness of existing F2S activities and creating strong connections between school districts and local vendors would increase participation across the board. Through these surveys, we found that many districts were unaware of ways they were participating in these programs or how they could easily increase their part. Closer relationships between the districts and the companies from which they are purchasing would help alleviate and/or resolve many of the cited obstacles towards participation.

We are using the results of this report to develop goals for working alongside Food and Nutrition Service Departments in the hope of providing technical assistance to the county districts for growing their F2S programs. Moving forward, we hope to expand the scope of the survey to reflect the state of our entire school food system. The 2016-2017 report will include data about efforts to reduce food waste; Adequate Time for School Lunch, Recess Before Lunch, and Breakfast after the Bell; and how districts can get involved in these policy initiatives.

For further information visit ocfoodaccess.org.

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