The Sacramento Bee’s front-page story (“Sacramento district criticized for buying Chinese canned fruit,” Nov. 16) rightly pointed out an oversight in our bidding process that we are working to correct.
Although we are confident in the safety of the fruit and in the legality of our actions, our intention was to purchase domestically grown fruit, and we are putting in place better checks and balances to prevent such mishaps.
Our fear is that the emphasis on this error diminishes our efforts to transform the Sacramento City Unified School District into a farm-to-school model for other districts.
Our cafeterias serve 50,000 meals a day, giving us an opportunity and obligation to improve the lives of students through better nutrition. Our challenge is that we are reimbursed by the federal government at a rate of between about $1.50 and $3 per meal. It would be tempting to stretch those dollars by eliminating costlier fresh fruits and vegetables. We haven’t done that.
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Since we created a healthy foods task force in 2010, our district has instead established salad bars at all 74 schools that are stocked with seasonal local produce and grains. Students are sampling apples from Stockton, mandarins from Penryn, pears from Courtland and brown rice from Sacramento and Butte counties.
We recently learned that we will receive a $100,000 federal grant to support our project FEAST, or Food Exploration and School Transformation. A collaboration with Soil Born Farms and the Food Literacy Center, the project aims to increase local vegetable purchases by 20 percent and increase by 80 percent the number of students offered local vegetables at meals.
Once a week after school, Food Literacy Center staff members will teach students at three pilot schools about the nutritional and environmental value of locally grown fruits and vegetables, and how to cook them. The lessons will be tied to what is grown in school gardens and served in cafeterias.
The goal is to expand the project to all schools. And in time, our students’ plates will be filled with great food and an education grounded in values that Sacramento holds dear: sustainability, environmentalism and respect for the community.
Brenda Padilla is nutrition services director for the Sacramento City Unified School District. She can be contacted at Brenda-Padilla@scusd.edu.