“We need to feed kids the highest quality food at school because it’s tied to so many different things — mental cognition, behavioral issues, academic performance, athletic performance, just everything.” — Brandy Dreibelbis, Director of Nutrition Services for Napa Valley Unified School District
The most recent USDA Farm to School Census found that 54% of California schools want to purchase more local food in the future. With the great agricultural bounty of our state, fresh fruits and vegetables are an ideal way for California schools to increase their local purchases. With the help of the USDA Pilot Project for the Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables, many participating California school districts have been able to do just that. (Read more about the Pilot Project in our earlier post here)
One of these Pilot Project success stories is Napa Valley Unified School District (NVUSD). Brandy Dreibelbis joined the NVUSD team as Director of Nutrition Services just over a year and a half ago and, in that brief time, has managed to dramatically improve the quality of food served to the district’s students. Participating in the Pilot Project has empowered Dreibelbis to shift away from the processed foods offered under the previous food service management contract in favor of freshly prepared foods and California-grown fruits and vegetables.
Serving the California Bay Area communities of American Canyon, Napa City and Yountville, NVUSD has over 17,000 K-12 students in 28 schools. NVUSD’s food service program, branded Napa’s Operative for School Food Health or NOSH, is currently serving an average of 8,000 meals per day. Although NVUSD has been experiencing declining enrollment, the number of students who qualify for free and reduced price meals continues to grow and is currently over 50%. Because many NVUSD students come from food insecure households, Dreibelbis believes it is particularly important for her program to offer students the best foods possible while they are at school.
One of the ways NVUSD has accomplished this is by installing a salad bar stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables in each school. Students are required to take at least one item from the salad bar to meet reimbursable meal requirements. Offerings change seasonally, and the majority are California grown and sourced through the Pilot Project. According to Dreibelbis, school salad bars may be the only exposure students from food insecure households get to fresh fruits and vegetables. By ensuring students have access to fresh fruits and vegetables at school, Dreibelbis hopes to build healthy eating habits that students will carry with them into adulthood.
Dreibelbis said participating in the Pilot Project has been beneficial for her district. NVUSD continues to spend more of its USDA entitlement through the Pilot Project each year, allocating $125,000 for 2018/2019 – an increase of $10,000 over the current school year. By using the Pilot Project as a way to purchase locally, Dreibelbis feels she is benefiting her community while providing the highest quality food for NVUSD students.
For more information about the Pilot Project, please visit the California Department of Education’s Pilot Project website. Farmers and distributors interested in selling to schools as part of the Pilot Project can click here to learn how to become a USDA-approved vendor.
Stay tuned for more Pilot Project success stories in the coming weeks.
– CDFA Farm to Fork Staff
This article is part of a series highlighting school districts that are participating in the USDA Pilot Project for Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables. Made possible by Specialty Crop Block Grant funding, these success stories aim to create awareness of the Pilot Project as a way to increase the amount of California specialty crops served in schools.