Quantcast
Popular

Farm to School Program Saves Big Bucks, Slashes Carbon Footprint at 100 Oakland Schools

By Melissa Hellmann

When her eldest son was in elementary school in the Oakland Unified School District, Ruth Woodruff became alarmed by the meals he was being served at school. A lot of it was frozen, processed foods, packed with preservatives. At home, she was feeding her children locally sourced, organic foods.


Woodruff believes that feeding children well is a foundation of good education. "If kids come to school hungry, if they don't have access to adequate nutrition ... their brains aren't going to be performing as well," she said.

So in late 2008, she and a group of parents got together to urge the school district to reconsider how and where it was buying the food it served students.

Now, five years after the district responded by overhauling the menus at its 100-plus schools—serving less meat and adding more fruits and vegetables—a new report has revealed some surprising results. The study by the environmental nonprofit, Friends of the Earth, found that the district's Farm to School initiative not only provided its 48,000 or so students with access to healthier foods, but that between 2012 and 2015 its overall food costs declined and its carbon footprint shrank.

Local fish tostada with brown rice at Oakland Unified School District. Oakland Unified School District

What's more, kids are loving their new lunch choices. Oakland Unified School District is drawing praise from environmental organizations, and other districts are seeing it as an example for how they can serve more organic meals, made from scratch. "Food is often completely ignored as a climate solution," said Kari Hamerschlag, lead author of the report and Friends of the Earth's food and technology deputy director. "But there really is a climate solution at the end of everyone's fork."

Healthy food access is especially significant in Oakland, where a majority of the students are low-income, said the district's Farm to School supervisor, Alexandra Emmott. Some 73 percent of the district's students qualify for free and reduced lunches.

"Many of our students are eating multiple meals a day at the school district, so it's really important that those are healthy and that they're sustainable," Emmott said.

In pushing for change, Woodruff and the other parents formed the Oakland School Food Alliance, which studied school-lunch models across the country and encouraged the district to consider more locally sourced, whole foods.

For the cash-strapped district, fresh fruits and vegetables and organic meats would be expensive. So in the fall of 2009, it launched Farm to School to bring foods from local farms into its cafeterias. The program saves the district money because cooks prepare school meals from scratch.

To cut down on the use as well as the cost of meat, they began serving a vegetarian menu once a week. On other days, they reduce meat usage by 30 percent, while also serving more fruits and vegetables. To meet the protein requirements in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nutrition standards for school meals, they pair higher quality meats with a 10 percent increase in legumes.

The lunch menu in Oakland Unified School District schools transformed from a smorgasbord of processed foods to local, organic options. School cooks season and roast antibiotic-free chicken in-house, instead of heating up pre-cooked drumsticks. They also substitute frozen vegetables with fresh sides, like carrot salads made from scratch.

In addition to a healthier menu, students get to go on field trips to local farms and take cooking classes through the program. A grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture has allowed the district to continue it.

In 2013, Oakland Unified School District partnered with the sustainable living nonprofit, Center for Ecoliteracy, to pilot a supplemental program called California Thursdays, which allows them to serve even more freshly prepared, locally grown food once a week. It has since been expanded into 58 school districts statewide.

One byproduct of the district's menu overhaul has had environmental benefits officials hadn't anticipated.

School Food FOCUS, a nonprofit that works with companies and schools to bring healthier foods to cafeterias, connected the district with Mindful Meats, a supplier of California-grown organic beef. The company's meats come from grass-fed matured dairy cows that serve the dual purpose of creating milk and beef and therefore have a smaller carbon footprint.

Animal agriculture is one of the leading drivers of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And because schools typically purchase large amounts of animal products, they have larger carbon footprints, Hamerschlag said. By choosing organic meat options, the environmental benefits were immediate.

The Friends of the Earth report found that over a two-year period, Oakland Unified School District reduced its carbon footprint by 14 percent, its water use by nearly 6 percent and saved the district $42,000, or about 1 percent of its food budget, Emmott said.

The district plans to expand the program. In coming years, it will complete a 48,000-square-foot central kitchen, an instructional farm and education center where students can learn about urban agriculture.

And Woodruff, the Oakland Unified School District parent, hopes that the new kitchen will allow students to eat even more whole foods cooked from scratch.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Scientists have been shocked at the depth and size of the Amazon reef. Greenpeace

Amazon Reef: BP Drilling Plans Dealt Another Blow by Brazilian Regulator

By Joe Sandler Clarke, Unearthed

BP's plans to drill for oil near a huge coral reef in the mouth of Amazon river have been dealt a further blow after a regulator questioned the company's environmental risk assessment.

Ibama, Brazil's federal environmental agency, rejected an environmental study from the British oil giant, further delaying the company's plans to drill in the region.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

Judge Stops Walmart Shopping Center From Being Built on Endangered Florida Forest

Environmentalists cheered after a Miami district court judge issued an emergency injunction on Friday to stop bulldozers from razing a stretch of endangered pine rocklands—one of the world's rarest forests, and home to species found nowhere else on Earth—to make way for a Walmart shopping center near Zoo Miami and Everglades National Park.

Judge Ursula Ungaro's decision was made only hours after the Center for Biological Diversity, Tropical Audubon Society, Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition and South Florida Wildlands Association sued the Trump administration for approving the proposed Coral Reef Commons.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

Investigation: Actual Death Toll From Hurricane Maria Is Close to 1,000 in Puerto Rico

The official death toll from Hurricane Maria has risen to 64, Puerto Rican authorities announced Saturday, factoring in two additional "indirect" deaths from the storm to previously announced numbers.

However, the official number of deaths, which critics say is suspiciously low considering the damage from the storm, is coming under some scrutiny: both a Center for Investigative Journalism report published Thursday and a New York Times review of mortality data published Friday estimate the actual death toll to be closer to 1,000.

Keep reading... Show less

WATCH LIVE: Can the Courts Bring About a Climate Fix? Three Judges Are About to Decide

By John Light

Editor's note: Watch the oral arguments live beginning at 1 p.m. EST above.

Three judges in San Francisco potentially have the power to decide how the U.S. government deals with climate change. Monday, 21 young Americans will make the case that President Trump has endangered their future by aiding and abetting the dirty industries responsible for the global crisis. And they will argue that they can hold him legally accountable.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Oil Change International

12 Projects That Undermine the One Planet Summit and Put the Climate at Risk

As world leaders and global financial institutions gather for the One Planet Summit on Dec. 12 in Paris, civil society groups have come together under the Big Shift Global campaign to underscore the massive finance gap remaining to shift away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy, in line with the aim of the Paris agreement on climate change to limit warming to below 1.5°C.

Keep reading... Show less

France Awards U.S. Climate Scientists Multi-Year Grants to #MakeOurPlanetGreatAgain

French President Emmanuel Macron will announce the first recipients of the "Make Our Planet Great Again" grants Monday evening.

The winners will receive all-expenses-paid grants to relocate to France and to conduct their climate research through the remainder of President Donald Trump's current term.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
GMO

Monsanto Giving Cash to Farmers Who Use Controversial Pesticide

Looks like Monsanto really wants farmers to use XtendiMax. The agribusiness giant is offering a cash incentive to farmers to apply a controversial pesticide linked to 3.1 million acres of crop damage in nearly two dozen heartland states, according to Reuters.

The cash-back offer comes as several states are considering restrictions on the use of the drift-prone and highly volatile chemical. DuPont Co. and BASF SE also sell dicamba-based formulations.

Keep reading... Show less
Scene from Ed R. Levin County Park in Milpitas, California. Don DeBold / Flickr

Why California Droughts Could Increase Due to Arctic Sea Ice Loss

Receding ice cover in the Arctic ocean could produce more droughts in California, according to a new study.

Published last week in Nature Communications, the study found that sea ice loss in the Arctic—of the proportion expected in coming years—could set off an atmospheric effect that will steer precipitation away from California. Notably, the study linked Arctic sea ice loss with the development of an atmospheric ridging system that also played a central role in the state's 2012-2016 drought.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!