School Food FOCUS National Gathering
School Food FOCUS National Gathering
The Center for Ecoliteracy was strongly represented February 6 – 8 at School Food FOCUS's "Transforming School Food 2014: A National Gathering of Peers and Partners Taking on School Food Change."
The Oakland meeting convened more than 200 invited school food service professionals, community and national partners, government representatives, vendors, funders, and other good food advocates.
The Center launched its newest resource, Making the Case for Healthy, Freshly Prepared School Meals, with a presentation by creative director Karen Brown. Center Rethinking School Lunch program manager Adam Kesselman designed a pop-up kitchen experience in which participants prepared a meal that included dishes from School Meals Featuring California Food, the Center's recent collection of recipes scaled and tested for use by school nutrition services. Adam and executive director Zenobia Barlow appeared on a panel, "Transforming School Food Relationships — the Oakland Way!" — which featured the Center's Rethinking School Lunch Oakland (RSLO) project. Zenobia and Erin Wirpsa Eisenberg of the TomKat Charitable Trust served on another panel, "School Kitchen Facilities: Bricks and Mortar and Beyond," in which the RSLO work, including the Rethinking School Lunch Oakland Feasibility Study, figured prominently.
In the growing movement to better nourish children, School Food FOCUS (Food Options for Children in Urban Schools) is on the frontlines, under the leadership of executive director Toni Liquori. The national collaborative helps districts wield their high-volume purchasing power and build enduring relationships to serve more healthful, regionally sourced, and sustainably produced food. The goal: to enhance and support student health, academic achievement, local agriculture, local economies, and the environment.
Since its founding in 2008, FOCUS has grown to include 36 of the country's largest school districts, representing over four million schoolchildren. Most FOCUS districts have high rates of free or reduced-price meal eligibility, serving students who often depend almost entirely on school lunch for daily nourishment. Participating districts and their partners include Baltimore City Public Schools and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future; Boston Public Schools and the Boston Public Health Commission; Detroit Public Schools and Detroit Eastern Market; and Oakland Unified School District and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF).
Understanding the critical role of sourcing, FOCUS launched the School Food Learning Lab program to analyze food supply and demand, change procurement practices, and document and share best practices and lessons learned. The first Learning Lab in Saint Paul Public Schools resulted in a significant increase in local produce purchasing and a dramatic decrease statewide in the sugar content of flavored milk in schools; the district also created "Minnesota Grown" educational materials for the lunchroom and introduced more cooking from scratch. Following equally fruitful Labs in Denver and Chicago, FOCUS took the experience to the multi-state level in 2011 with the Upper Midwest Regional Learning Lab, which engages school districts in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
FOCUS's collaborative work with school food service professionals is yielding many success stories, including nutrition services reform in Oakland and Bertrand Weber's "Real Food" campaign in Minneapolis Public Schools, which was organized around the Center for Ecoliteracy's Rethinking School Lunch framework.