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Change is on the Menu!

This past September, Eat REAL had the opportunity to showcase how their program supports farm to school at two schools in California’s Vacaville Unified school district. The nonprofit welcomed First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom and representatives from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) for tours, inspiring conversations with other district foodservice leaders, and a first-hand dining experience in a newly renovated district kitchen. 

“I was so inspired today to see California’s farm-to-school grant program in action at Edwin Markham Elementary — a Vacaville school working with Eat REAL Certified to bring fresh, wholesome, locally grown foods to California kids,” said First Partner Jennifer Seibel Newson.

As a recipient of a competitive CDFA Farm to School Incubator Grant, Eat REAL will be working with three California districts, including Vacaville, to become Eat REAL Certified, focusing on expanding and better integrating more farm to school programming. The key goals of the multi-year grant include:

  • Promoting more California local sourcing by the three School Districts
  • Engaging communities around Farm to School and local sourcing
  • Sharing their success as case studies with districts across the state

This recent investment into farm-to-school and programs like Eat REAL is game-changing for our children and the health of our planet. 

Vacaville Food Service Director Juan Cordon began working with Eat REAL in 2019 when it joined its certification program to get data on the district’s impact and opportunities and support its nutrition + sustainability efforts. With the help of funds from a city bond, VUSD built out a full kitchen at Markham Elementary that provides scratch-cooked meals for 3 of the district’s schools. 

This has led to a positive shift in the perception of school meals for both parents and students, 

“Thumbs up,” said one first grader. “I love school meals,” said another first grader. 

The day’s menu included burrito bowls made with Rancho Gordo beans and Mary’s Chicken, both local farms that practice responsible agriculture. Each component was scratch-made, including the locally sourced Spanish rice that was reminiscent of “what grandma used to make” for many in attendance. The nutritious and kid-approved lunch served models what is achievable when school food service programs have the support they need to serve their students better.

“The meal today was far beyond what I have seen before in a school setting,”observed Eat REAL Director of Development Angelique Keys, “The overall elevation of the school meal, how it was presented and served, felt more like a restaurant than the average cafeteria.”

When the visitors had a chance to sit down and discuss their day, Food Service Leaders Dominic Machi (Mt. Diablo Unified School District), Sarah Doherty (North Monterey County Unified School District), and Juan Cordon shared their strategies and experiences in increasing local sourcing through strategic partnerships with farms and purveyors, commitment to growing and maintaining scratch cooking, and creating more kid-friendly meals. This event was an exciting kick-off to a partnership innovating our food systems with students, equity, and more resilient communities at the center.

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