Monthly Archives: February 2017

Building a Farm to School Program from Scratch: Turlock Child Nutrition Director Training

turlock 3 625Districts across California are improving not only the quality and variety of food served in school meals, but also the availability of local products and the messaging used to communicate regional products to students. Turlock Unified School District has forged the way for such efforts. The district hosted the first of three Child Nutrition Director Trainings on February 3rd to help other school districts follow suit. Organized by the Office of Farm to Fork, the trainings aim to highlight programs that have successfully increased their local fruit and vegetable purchasing and bring together food service directors looking to advance their farm to school programs.

Despite torrential rain, the training saw a strong turnout of food service professionals eager to learn from Scott Soiseth, Turlock’s Child Nutrition Director. Within the food service community, Soiseth is regarded as a pioneer in improving school meal service with his focus on procuring seasonal products for mainly scratch cooking. School districts in attendance, ranged in size from small districts, like Plumas Lake Elementary School with only 1,200 students and a 40% free and reduced population to large districts with high free and reduced priced populations, like Lodi Unified School District with 30,000 students of which 66% are free and reduced.


Turlock Unified School District’s Child Nutrition Director, Scott Soiseth, shares his vision for his district’s food service program.

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Fruit packaged and branded with the real.fresh logo

The day commenced with breakfast, including local fruit packaged with Turlock’s real.fresh brand and presentations featuring Soiseth’s wealth of knowledge of farm to school practices. Soiseth spoke specifically to the effort he placed on developing a successful marketing plan to properly communicate the hard work behind each meal. He also discussed his journey into locally procuring for his school meal program and how he relies heavily on the DoD Fresh program to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Soiseth reserved a portion of the day’s time to discuss his involvement in the USDA Pilot Project for Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables, which allows him to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from local producers. Addison Ford, part of the Office of Farm to Fork, also presented on the California Farmer Marketplace, a website developed to connect food service staff to California farmers and aid in the procurement of local produce.


Attendees visiting the future central kitchen for Turlock Unified School District.

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During the day, the group was able to visit the current central kitchen and view the machine that slices and packages fruit for school meals.

During the day, the group visited the current central kitchen and was able to see the machine that individually packages fruit and a cafeteria branded with real.fresh messaging. The group also drove outside town and visited the school’s 5 acre farm, where the district recently planted a one acre vegetable plot and fruit and nut trees. Produce from the farm will be served in school meals. Finally the group toured Turlock’s future central kitchen. Soiseth took the opportunity to explain his vision and the journey he has taken to achieving it. The site will include a space for an aggregation center and a dedicated space for teaching students, families, and food service staff about nutrition education and scratch cooking. Attendees were served a typical school lunch at the site which included local spinach, romaine, and kiwis. “It’s great to see the full breadth of what the district is doing to improve meal quality and participation numbers”, remarked one attendee.

As the day ended, attendees left with a newfound knowledge from the presentations and site visits, as well as many new connections within their professional field. The Office of Farm to Fork will host a final Child Nutrition Director training in Encinitas on February 24th.

California State Employees Donate more than 750,000 pounds

Employees from the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services present employees from the State Board of Equalization with the award for largest total poundage last night at the State Employees Food Drive wrap party.

Employees from the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services present employees from the State Board of Equalization with the award for largest total poundage last night at the State Employees Food Drive wrap party.

Totals are now in for the California State Employees Food Drive, which set the ambitious goal to raise 750,000 pounds of food for the 2016/17 food drive, knowing that employees are eager to help Californians in need during the holidays. Using the theme, Giving is in Season Year-Round, the drive kicked off in late September to help increase contributions and spanned until early February.

The Office of Farm to Fork coordinated the food drive from late September to early February, along with their partners at the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services and 94 different agencies statewide. Across the state over 764,000 pounds of food were donated, surpassing this year’s goal of 750,000 pounds and clearly demonstrating employees desire to give back to their communities. Outside of the Sacramento area over 100,000 pounds of food were donated to local food banks and pantries, eventually ending up on the tables of Californians throughout the state.

The need in California is substantial. According to the California Association of Food Banks, 5.4 million Californians contend with food insecurity, the occasional or constant lack of access to the food one needs for a healthy, active life. Of these Californians, more than two-million are children.

To continue momentum and remind employees of this need throughout the three and a half month drive, events were held periodically across the state, including a kickoff day in late September where employees donated over 450 pounds of fresh produce at the Capitol Mall Farmers Market in Sacramento to benefit the Reverse Food Truck, a project of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The event aimed to take advantage of the great produce items still available during the fall in California. As Thanksgiving rolled around 42,882 pounds of turkey (the equivalent of over 3,000 birds) were donated during the annual Turkey Drive and the Run to Feed the Hungry in Sacramento held on November 24th raised $18,127 in registrations and 10,869 pounds of food. Secretary Karen Ross also hosted two “Coffee with the Secretary” events which gave employees a chance to donate money or food, drink a cup of coffee, and chat with Ross in a relaxed festive environment.

“I am impressed each year with the level of compassion and commitment that employees display when they donate to the food drive,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross, chair of the food drive. “Food brings people together, in particular during the holidays, when families and friends gather around the table. This effort is so important in helping to make that happen for families that may need a little boost.”

food drive 3Each year the State Employees Food Drive hosts a wrap up party and awards are given to highlight the commitment agencies have taken to make the drive a success. For the 2016/17 drive, the Board of Equalization received the award for the largest overall donation poundage totaling 166,889 pounds. Two new award categories were also added this year for most creative fundraiser and the biggest increase in donations from the previous year. CalEPA took home this first category with their Dream it, Built it, Give it competition, where employees built structures out of food donations. Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta Conservancy took home the award for the largest increase by upping donations from 18 pounds to 912 pounds since the 2015/16 drive.

Final weights and totals for the State Employees Food Drive will be posted to the website this week following the drive’s wrap up party. This year’s success is a testament to how hardworking and passionate our California State Employees are to helping those less fortunate in our communities.

Lodi Unified School District Hosts California Thursdays Celebration

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Members of the Lodi’s nutrition services team at Delta Sierra Middle School in Stockton

On Thursday, January 26th, a hearty and fragrant Italian soup, Pasta e Fagioli was on the lunch menu at Lodi Unified School District. It was freshly prepared and made with California-grown food, including whole grain pasta and heirloom beans grown at a ranch farmed continuously since 1855 by a California family. Students devoured it.

This tasty meal – like many other delicious, kid-tested recipes served across the state – is part of the California Thursdays program. A collaboration between the nonprofit Center for Ecoliteracy and a network of public school districts, the program supports improving school food by preparing meals using real ingredients sourced from California, including proteins, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy.

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Nancy Rostomily, Lodi Unified School District’s Food Service Director, with her Nutrition Services team on Collective Action Day

It’s a big effort with a big network. With seventy-one districts, including more than 2,900 schools, 1.85 million students, and 11,600 nutrition service staff, the California Thursdays Network collectively serves over 309 million meals each year. That is almost one third of the state’s nearly one billion school meals.

Lunch on January 26th, however, was special. It was a “Collective Action Day,” where the network commits to serving their California Thursdays meals on the same day to demonstrate collective impact and to celebrate the abundance of California agriculture. On this particular Thursday, more than 500,000 students around the state enjoyed a tasty, healthy California Thursdays lunch.

Nancy Rostomily, Lodi Unified School District’s Director of Nutrition Services, and her team had been planning their Collective Action Day celebration for months. In addition to the procurement and menu development necessary to create a new dish that would be rolled out to 58 schools, Nancy also invited farmers, producers, and distributors to join them for the day. Many were directly responsible for providing the food on the lunchtime tray. Students had a chance to meet “their” farmers and understand exactly where their food had come from.

Special guests, from elected officials to celebrity chefs, also visited California Thursdays schools across the state. Lodi Unified School District was honored to host Jim Houston, Undersecretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and Kamal Bagri, Assistant Agriculture Commissioner for San Joaquin County.

“It’s great to see the level of commitment everyone has taken to make California Thursdays a success. There is a lot of hard work that goes into scratch cooking, but it is worth the time and effort,” remarked Houston.

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Lodi Unified School District students celebrate California Thursdays in Stockton

The celebration was about more than local food and healthy students. “Freshly prepared, served with care” was the Collective Action Day theme, to honor the many dedicated nutrition services staff who have a hand in creating these meals. Nick La Mattina, a Regional Supervisor for the district, said, “It is amazing to be able to trace your food to the source. California has so much wonderful fresh food to offer. Why settle for something that was picked early, robbing essential nutrients, just to allow for time in transit?”

While developing their Pasta e Fagioli soup (pasta and beans), Nancy and her team certainly kept the source in mind. With whole grain pasta from Community Grains and heirloom beans from Mohr-Fry Ranch, just down the road in Lodi, it could hardly be more fresh and local. The dish embodied the multiple “wins” of California Thursdays: to nourish students, steward environmental sustainability, support the local economy, and connect students to their local food systems.

Like so many others around the state, students left Collective Action Day nourished, engaged, and excited about their next California Thursdays meal.

California’s commitment to reducing food waste

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Californians throw away nearly 6 million tons of food scraps or food waste each year. This represents about 18 percent of all the material that goes to landfills. In order for California to reach its goal of 75% source reduction, recycling and composting, food waste must be addressed.

California’s Mandatory Commercial Organics Recycling law requires businesses to recycle their organic waste. The links below provide more information on food waste management as well as examples of how various business groups and public entities are managing food waste.

Everyone has a role in saving resources and wasting less food. Creative food rescue projects like the UglyFruitAndVeg Campaign work to save healthy fruits and vegetables from becoming waste. Rather than throwing away excess food, find ways to manage it more thoughtfully, such as working with groups to ensure that it goes to disadvantaged people, and composting for soil restoration. To further educate the public about food waste, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ad Council have initiated a food waste reduction campaign known as Their web site offers a complete media kit with posters, videos, social media postings, and more.

CalRecycle conducted two workshops in support of a proposed Food Waste Prevention and Rescue grant program; follow the progress of that program.

CalRecycle has been working to reduce food waste since at least 2002, when its predecessor agency conducted a Food Diversion Summit.

Hotels/Restaurants – Information for restaurants on managing food scraps.

Households – Information for households on managing food scraps.

Schools – Information for colleges/universities and K-12 on managing food scraps.

US EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy – Ranks food donations to feed hungry people as a top priority to help reduce wasted food.

Stadiums/Special Events – Information for stadiums, fairs, festivals, and catered events on managing food scraps.

Health Care Industry – Information for the health care industry on managing food scraps.

Grocery Stores – Information for grocery stores on donating edible food to disadvantaged communities.

***Cross-posted from CDFA’s Planting Seeds Blog***

Increased focus on food security at UC Merced

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UC Merced is relaunching its branch of the Blum Center for Developing Economies with a focus on food security, with a hope to make it a hub for food-security-related research and outreach.

Economics Professor Kurt Schnier, with the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, and Karina Diaz Rios, a nutrition specialist in the UC Cooperative Extension, will lead the rejuvenated Blum Center, with administrative help from the Health Sciences Research Institute (HSRI).

“We want to create a community on campus to address issues of food security,” Schnier said. “We want to help engage students, faculty members and the community to have a direct effect on people’s lives.”

Merced County’s economy is largely based around agriculture, yet many people there do not have food security. The food insecurity rate in the area is 15.5 percent, according to the Merced County Food Bank, compared to a statewide average of 13.9 percent. Nearly 30 percent of those considered food insecure in Merced County are children. Food insecurity is defined as a lack of reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

The Blum Center at UC Merced started in 2013 and is affiliated with the Blum Center at UC Berkeley, which was founded by a gift from investment banker and UC Regent Richard C. Blum.  There are Blum Centers on several other UC campuses, including UCLA, UC Davis and UC Berkeley, the school from which Blum graduated. Each center has a slightly different focus, though all work toward the betterment of the global society.

***Cross-posted from Planting Seeds Blog***