By: Sonia Fernandez-Arana, MA
October is National Farm-to-School Month, a campaign dedicated to connecting children and communities to nutritious local foods while supporting farmers, agriculture and the economy. This year marks the 13th anniversary of National Farm-to-School Month, first enacted by Congress in 2010 to recognize food systems and honor farmers and those that contribute to school meal programs.
For over a century, Dairy Council of California has been leading farm to school efforts through the support of the California dairy community by bringing the original Farm-to-School program, Mobile Dairy Classroom, to schools across the state. Additionally, Dairy Council of California is committed to fostering partnerships with districts and school nutrition professionals to engage students in learning the journey of food, the impact of the local food system and how nutrient-rich foods contribute to a healthy eating pattern.
“Partnerships and nutrition security are key to Dairy Council of California and are activated through our Let’s Eat Healthy Initiative. We are proud to work with Lodi Unified School District as one of our Let’s Eat Healthy partners, together advancing food access, nutrition education and agricultural literacy,” states Shannan Young, RDN, SNS, Partnerships and Programs Officer, Dairy Council of California. “This year we are collaborating to support the district’s expanded farm to school efforts and increased agriculture literacy by educating on topics including California’s leading agricultural commodity, milk and dairy foods.”
The California Department of Food and Agriculture Office of Farm to Fork awarded a $314,000 grant to Lodi Unified School District Nutrition Services through the 2022 California Farm-to-School Incubator Grant Program to expand its farm-to-school initiatives. The district and Dairy Council of California are teaming up to provide experiential nutrition and dairy agriculture literacy activities across grade levels through Lodi’s Farm-to-School, Edible Nutrition Education Program. This funding is vital to support nutrition education that will help students understand the connection of fresh, locally grown foods and what is being served in their own school cafeterias. Immersive learning for all grade levels will equip scholars to become conscious consumers, which will directly change the positive perception of “school food.”
Lodi Unified School District Nutrition Specialist Alena Miller shares, “Lodi USD Nutrition Services is so excited to create an Edible Nutrition Education Program, offering apple, citrus, berry, squash and dairy learning experiences in the classroom for all grade levels. It is a great privilege to work with Dairy Council of California to bridge the gap between local dairy items currently offered in school meals to what is taught in classrooms. With this partnership, the dairy Taste & Teach learning opportunities will connect students to where food comes from, how it tastes, and how to eat healthy with school meals and at home.”
Dairy Council of California’s collaboration on the Edible Nutrition Education Program features coordinating dairy farm field trips and developing a dairy-focused farm to school resource that supports the grant. Let’s Eat Healthy Together: Explore Dairy is a five-day unit that explores milk and dairy foods and their journey from the farm. Each day’s unit varies to include taste tests, recipes, videos, extension activities, projects and more. There are also essential pieces like vocabulary, background information for educators, and family connections to continue the learning at home. Lessons build appreciation for the value of food while also providing an opportunity to build healthy eating patterns. Tasting experiences promote the nutritious menu offerings as well as participation in Lodi’s school meal program.
The goal is to empower students to make better lifelong nutritional choices and help remove the stigma of school meals for the food-insecure population. The resource Let’s Eat Healthy Together: Explore Dairy was developed alongside educators to ensure fun and engaging content for K–12 students. It will not only educate students in Lodi but will also be available to educators throughout California.
For resources to celebrate National Farm-to-School Month, visit Dairy Council of California’s Farm-to-You page at HealthyEating.org/FarmtoSchool, which includes this newest dairy-focused farm to school resource. To join the Let’s Eat Healthy Initiative visit: HealthyEating.org/Join
Originally published in Poppy Seeds Magazine, the original journal for the California child nutrition profession, for the fall 2023 issue.
Sonia Fernandez Arana, MA, is the Let's Eat Healthy Program Manager for Dairy Council of California. The Let’s Eat Healthy initiative, activated by Dairy Council of California, champions community health through shared values and collaboration. Let’s Eat Healthy provides an actionable platform to improve access to science-based nutrition education, agricultural programs and nutritious foods for children and their families.
Dr. Betty Crocker, RDN, SNS, is the Nutrition Services Director for Lodi Unified School District and a 2022–2023 Let’s Eat Healthy Leadership Award winner. Dr. Crocker is on a mission to reclaim the food environment in her region with her farming community and empower every child each school day with healthy meals. A Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef and registered dietitian, Dr. Crocker has a doctorate from Loma Linda University in policy and leadership. She is an industry veteran with over 20 years of foodservice experience and has worked in school nutrition since 2015.
Sonia Fernandez-Arana, MA
Sonia Fernandez-Arana, MA
Sonia is the Let’s Eat Healthy Program Manager and leads the activation and advancement of the Let’s Eat Healthy Initiative.
Behind every successful school meal program is a leader with a mission to support the long-term success and health of children.