Monthly Archives: June 2016

Farmers Market Program Aiming to Help Low-Income California Families Gets New Life

From San Jose Mercury News, By Annie Sciacca  (

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California Gov. Jerry Brown has approved a bill that could boost a program increasing access to healthy food for low-income families through farmers’ markets that has already grown considerably in the Bay Area.

The governor has approved a state budget that includes $5 million for the California Nutrition Incentives Act, which sets up a program to discount fresh produce at farmers’ markets for low-income shoppers. Signing the bill allows the state to take advantage of federal matching money through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program and thus double the impact of its investment in the program.

The largest operator of that program is Market Match, which has so far been funded with a grant from the USDA. But that grant will run out in one year. The Ecology Center, which administers the program statewide, will have to apply through the USDA to get the matching funds, according to the center’s food and farming director, Ben Feldman.

More than 200 nonprofit organizations and individuals including Roots of Change, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, American Heart Association and California Pan-Ethnic Health Network have worked to secure funding for the program over the last three years and consider the new approval a success after Gov. Brown cut the $2.5 million that the legislature requested for the program in 2015.

“With this funding, the state of California has put its money where its mouth is in terms of supporting healthy eating for low-income families,” said Martin Bourque, executive director of the Berkeley-based Ecology Center, in a statement. “The demand for Market Match has consistently outstripped the supply of funds. The additional $5 million will allow us to expand the program towards our goal of offering Market Match at every farmers’ market in the state.”

Under Market Match, which was established by nonprofit Roots of Change, shoppers using federal assistance benefits can go to the farmers’ market manager, indicate how much they want to spend using their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, and get tokens to be used at stands with fruits and vegetables. If a shopper wants to spend $10, the program matches it to $20, giving them double the credit to use at the market.

“I think it’s important because it not only increases people’s access to local, fresh produce, it gets them actually more for what they’re spending,” Cristal Banagan, a Richmond resident who uses Market Match at Oakland and Richmond farmers’ markets, told Bay Area News Group earlier this month.. “If you use EBT … you don’t have the finest food, and you’re in need of this.”

Market Match is on track to connect nearly 240,000 low-income shoppers with 2,200 of the state’s small farms through farmers’ markets, generating $9.8 million in fruit and vegetable sales. In the Bay Area, local farmers have earned $1.1 million directly from the program.

***Cross Posted from Planting Seeds Blog***

Golden Seed Awards, Apply Before June 30th!

The California Farm to School Network, a project of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers announced the inaugural launch of the California Golden Seed Awards contest, highlighting farm to school efforts throughout the state.

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The Golden Seed Awards are meant to recognize Farm to School efforts at all levels in California’s school districts and schools. Whether you started your first school garden this year or have an established a student run-farm – they want to hear from you! Applicants will be evaluated by their contributions to the three pillars of Farm to School – procurement, education, and school gardens. With three different awards categories, anyone can win!

Sow, Grow and Harvest awards will be granted to applicants participating in at least one, two or three of the pillars (respectively). Awards will be chosen by a committee established by CFSN and will be announced in mid-August.

The application for the Golden Seed Awards is open until June 30th, and recipients will be announced in mid August. Prizes include passes to the 2017 California Farm to School Conference, passes to pre-conference field trips, technical assistance for beginning programs and lots of media attention!

For more information, and to apply online, please visit:

For any questions, please contact

Celebrating Food and Culinary Connections: Schools Serve up California-grown Food on “California Thursdays”

By Jennifer Gerard, R.D., Center for Ecoliteracy, California Food for California Kids Program Director

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What’s your favorite day of the week? For many students in California — it’s Thursday.

On Thursdays, over 1.7 million students in schools that participate in the California Thursdays program know they’ll be offered a lunch freshly prepared from California ingredients. California Thursdays is a celebration of local food, the people who produce and prepare it, and the significant connections that exist between children, food, and their environment.

California Thursdays is also a powerful tool to increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, stimulate local economies, and decrease the transportation required for distribution — decreasing emissions and increasing freshness.

California Thursdays is led by the Center for Ecoliteracy, a not-for-profit which provides support, inspiration, and resources for the program. Participating school districts adopt the California Thursdays program in their own brilliant and unique ways — as you’ll see in two stories below.

Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) has taken the farm to school movement literally — by building a farm on district property. The Farm Lab serves as both an outdoor education site and a production farm — providing the district’s cafeterias with locally grown lettuces, herbs, zucchini, snap peas, celery, melons, and up to 300 pounds of tomatoes per week during peak season. While much of the harvest occurs in summer when school is out, the Child Nutrition Services team doesn’t miss a beat. They roast tomatoes, shred zucchini (with their industrial cheese grater), and freeze both for a marinara sauce to serve when students return. Herbs such as oregano, basil, and rosemary are dried over the course of several weeks, utilizing repurposed wire food-transport racks lined with parchment paper. Once dried, the herbs are coarsely ground and stored in airtight containers for use in pizza and marinara sauce. Through processes like these, EUSD is able to prepare a delicious, meaningful meal that exceeds USDA nutrition requirements for school meals and inspires change in the conventional school food system.

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Pittsburg Unified School District (PUSD) and six neighboring school districts in Contra Costa County saw their California Thursdays kick-off in April of 2015, as the perfect opportunity to combine their purchasing power. They agreed to carry similar salad bar options and many served identical entrées, including a “California Wrap” made with California lavash (which is lower in sodium than traditional tortillas), deli turkey, and cheese. For just one day, their efforts translated in purchases of over 4,000 pounds of local produce, including 1,800 pounds of asparagus bought directly from a grower cooperative. “The coolest part,” reflects Sarah Hanson of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) “was seeing how the directors worked together and exchanged recipes…and convinced each other that it was okay to serve things like asparagus!” CDFA assisted the group with organizational support and sourcing. The group plans on continuing to collectively purchase seasonal produce in the 2016–17 school year for use in their California Thursdays meals. The effort of these harmonious school districts, guided by a statewide movement, has the potential to invest $1.2 million in Contra Costa and nearby counties and shift the landscape towards a more fruitful future for farmers and students.

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For now, California Thursdays is a stepping stone to exemplary school meal programs that connect classrooms, cafeterias, and farms statewide. Maybe someday, every day will be a California Thursday.

For more information on California Thursdays, recipes featuring California foods for schools and families, and garden-based curriculum materials, visit

***Cross-posted from USDA Blog***

Secretary Ross visits dynamic school Ag programs in Calaveras County

Sec-RossCDFA Secretary Karen Ross visited several flourishing school Ag programs in Calaveras County, getting an opportunity to speak directly with young people who could be part of the next generation of farmers and ranchers in California.
Secretary Ross visited an outdoor classroom at Valley Springs Elementary School, the student-run farm at Calaveras High School, and accompanied students on a field trip to Metzger Farms.
All the venues demonstrated the value of a $22,960 grant from CDFA’s CalAgPlate Program to the Calaveras Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Gardens to Grow In for an Ag mentorship program in the region.
“The power of this program comes from amazing community support at all levels,” said Secretary Ross. “It is truly a model project and a great example of the tremendous benefits coming from the CalAgPlate program.”
The project has developed a farm-to-school program that is based on linking FFA members to local farmers and to elementary and middle school garden and agriculture programs. FFA members are learning about marketing and distribution by running a vegetable box delivery program (CSA) and selling at farmers’ markets. They also are learning the power of service and giving back to their community by working with food banks.

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