Friday, June 20, 2014

The "School Lunch Debate"


Photo by Getty Images



“The School Lunch Debate” has been all over the news since a House subcommittee approved a measure allowing school districts with proven economic hardship to temporarily opt out of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act nutrition standards passed in 2010. The new measure would allow schools to sidestep new standards for lower-sodium and 100% whole grains in meals. GOP leaders and the School Nutrition Association, which represents school food service directors and food suppliers, claim that the new requirements are unattainable.  They are saying that kids aren’t interested in the healthy options; therefore the schools are losing large amounts of money due to waste. There is also concern about effectively reducing the amounts of sodium and other preservatives. 

According to NPR, about a month ago, the USDA decided to relax its guidelines on whole grains by “offering a two-year extension for schools that can 'demonstrate significant challenges in serving whole-grain rich pastas' to continue serving 'traditional enriched pasta products' for up to two more years as the food industry develops better whole-grain pasta products for schools".

Supporters of upholding the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act nutrition standards include the First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the National Education Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Heart Association.

Education paired with healthy options could be the answer to healthier students and less food waste. Kids are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables that they’re familiar with, and toss out those that they don’t know. Research has shown that kids need to be exposed to a new food 10-15 times, before they are likely to try and acquire a taste for it. More than 40,000 schools across the U.S. are currently engaging in farm-to-school activities. Students who are introduced to new foods in the classroom or school garden are more inclined to try them in the cafeteria. Education is a powerful and effective preventative measure to combat diet-related disease.

Paying extra for more nutritious foods in our schools costs much less than the $14 billion per year spent on treating conditions such as type-2 diabetes and hypertension in children. One in three children in the U.S. is currently overweight or obese, and one in three children will eventually develop diabetes if current trends continue.  The answer shouldn’t be taking away these standards for nutrition, but instead figuring out ways to help schools achieve them more easily, and with less waste. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Harvest of the Month




Photo by Hither and Thither


Eating seasonal produce grown close to home is an important contribution that anyone can make to a healthy local food system. As an added bonus, seasonal produce is fresher, tastes better, and is often cheaper than its out-of-season counterparts.  However, feeling comfortable identifying, purchasing, and preparing produce that’s in season is not a reality for many people.

Education is a key piece to building a healthy and conscious community. Nutrition education can be incorporated into any subject matter. There’s no doubt that it is beneficial to expose children to various fruits and vegetables and healthy lifestyle choices at an early age. According to Champions for Change, research has shown that eating a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables and getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily helps children to maintain a healthy weight and lower risk for serious health problems.

Harvest of the Month aims to increase access, preference and consumption of local and seasonal produce. The primary audience is students of any age, but there are also components included for use with families and communities. The program was originally created by several local school districts in California as part of a broader nutrition education program targeting low-income students, but was launched as a statewide effort in 2005 by the California Department of Public Health.  Harvest of the Month features resources that can be used in a wide variety of settings including schools, daycares and farmers markets, to name a few. These materials include tasting recipes, history, nutrition information, family and community newsletters (in Spanish and English), and activities relating to the featured produce.

Harvest of the Month currently reaches 2,900 students in Del Norte schools each month. The program in Del Norte is supported by the Community Alliance for Family Farmers (CAFF) and sources produce from local growers whenever possible. This creates and builds upon partnerships between growers and the greater community, while creating long-term sustainability. Since the implementation of the program, an increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables over the course of one school year has been recorded by surveying 4th, 5th, and 9th grade students.

The Harvest of the Month Program was funded in the past by the Network for a Healthy California. However, they have shifted their focus away from schools and these funds are no longer available to support this program. The Community Food Council for DNATL, along with CAFF and the Del Norte County School District, has been committed to ongoing efforts to keep Harvest of the Month in our schools. These efforts have included creating community partnerships, fundraising, exploring alternative funding sources, and spreading the Harvest of the Month message to the whole community.

In addition, the Food Council is working in partnership with SNAP-Ed at the Department of Health and Human Services to implement new Harvest of the Month Programs and expand those that already exist in Home Daycares, Preschools and Head Starts in DNATL. We have created a resource guide for the Harvest of the Month Program that can be used by 0 to 5 providers. The guide includes tasting recipes, educator guides with produce information, physical activity for the classroom, and poems about enjoying seasonal produce. The Food Council recently attended the Child Care Council’s Annual Home Daycare Providers Conference and gave fifty-eight copies of our resource guide to the Home Daycare Providers in DNATL. We are also providing all of the preschool and head start providers with resource guides for the upcoming school year.  One of the goals of the Food Council in the coming year is to support 0 to 5 providers in effectively using these resource guides and being able to more easily incorporate the Harvest of the Month Program into their already packed curriculums.  

The Community Food Council is working to build a vibrant and sustainable food system in DNATL in various ways. Through promoting the Harvest of the Month program, we are aiming to have a positive influence on students and their families. The larger goal is to ensure that they will be surrounded by healthy choices and possess the knowledge and skills to support a nutritious and active lifestyle for years to come. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

DIY Food Workshops: Bringing food education to Crescent City

Recently at the Youth and Family Fair, representatives of the Community Food Council conducted a survey where participants identified the biggest struggles they face when trying to put a healthy meal on the table. Overwhelmingly, the results showed that time, money, and skills/knowledge were the most significant barriers to eating healthy. This was just a recent survey, but it confirmed something that we've suspected to be true for a long time: one of the biggest problems people face is simply not knowing what healthy food is, or how to cook it.

As a council, we have often discussed the issue of the lack of knowledge around healthy eating. It seems like it always came up in every discussion we had about how to properly address this issue and how to help: there needs to be a consistent and comprehensive method of teaching basic skills for all aspects of food. With the help of excellent volunteers, like Paul and Julie Jo of Ocean Air Farms, we had been able to hold a few educational workshops on growing your own food. When Food Day 2013 rolled around, proclaiming "education" as the theme for the holiday's festivities, we decided to put a strong focus on food education, from growing your own, to cooking, preserving, and even foraging. on Food Day 2013, we had our first big outing of "DIY Food Workshops." That day we had a whole day devoted to DIY workshops, including mushroom foraging, fermentation, basic kitchen skills, gardening skills, raising chickens, other food foraging, and canning. Our day of DIY was a great success, so the Food Council decided to make these DIY Food Workshops an on-going event.






Starting in January of 2014, the Community Food Council kicked off its series of DIY Food Workshops with a two-part workshop on consecutive weekends; the subject was home canning, including water bath canning and pressure canning. We were lucky enough to have a representative from the UC Cooperative Extension, Deb Giraud, come down to lead this workshop. Our impressive turn out of 30+ people learned the in's and out's of two different types of canning, got hands-on by canning their own veggies and beans, and were able to take home some basic canning supplies. After coming together for this workshop, a small contingent of the attendees followed it up by attending the Master Food Preserver's courses in Humboldt County.




Since our first DIY class, we've since held two more, in March and May. Paul Madeira teamed up with Andrea Souther of the National Resource Conservation Service in March to lead the workshop on Spring Gardening. Paul shared insight with attendees based on his extensive experience with local farming, while Andrea brought equipment to test attendees' soil samples for pH and taught about soil conservation methods. We continued with the theme of gardening into our May workshop, where Annie McAleenan of Annie Mac's Family Produce taught about all the exciting potential of Container Gardening. Again, attendees got to get hands on, planting a straw bale, numerous hanging bucket planters, a pallet, and a multitude of other containers that Annie Mac uses for her own home farm.





The Community Food Council will continue these DIY Food Workshops every other month into the future. We have yet to determine the subject and speaker for our July workshop, so stay tuned to this blog, our Facebook page, and look for flyers around town! As we continue the workshops every other month, expect these topics to come up:

  • Fermentation
  • Cheese making
  • Mushroom foraging
  • Native plant foraging
  • Orchard care
  • Permaculture/sustainable design
  • and a multitude of cooking subjects
We hope you get the chance to attend one of our workshops in the future. All workshops are free of charge, open to anybody, and will always have raffle prizes to give away! If you have specific topics you'd like to see us feature in a workshop, please feel encouraged to write us at foodcouncildnatl@gmail.com or on our Facebook page: "Community Food Council for Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands."

Friday, May 30, 2014

On A Budget? Meal Planning Helps!



The USDA's MyPlate campaign suggests that half of our plate at every meal should be fruits and vegetables (more veg than fruit), with the other half made up of whole grains and protein (more whole grain than protein). At the Youth and Family Fair, the Community Food Council for Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands asked a simple question:

If the USDA's MyPlate is the standard of a "healthy meal", what barriers make it difficult for families in our community to serve meals that fit that standard?

We know from surveys in the schools that many children in Del Norte schools report eating NO fruit or vegetables in the 24 hours leading up to the survey. While children not eating vegetables does not mean they weren't served vegetables, this is still an indicator that the MyPlate meal is not the norm in our community (or in most others).

We asked fair attendees to indicate what they felt were the two biggest challenges for families. Not too surprisingly, the biggest answers were time and money, with a lack of skills or knowledge not far behind. We will focus some attention on these challenges over the next year through our DIY Food Workshops, on our blog, and in other aspects of our work. Today is a start.
Menu planning can help diminish the challenges of both time and money by limiting the number of shopping trips, allowing for some bulk preparation and purchases, and matching easy meals on your busiest days. There is some upfront time to start getting used to menu planning, but it will pay off in the long run.


The USDA MyPlate campaign is not just public service messages about how the USDA thinks we should be eating. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) arm of USDA provides a lot of tools to help families eat healthier meals.

At the Grocery Game Plan website, the USDA offers a variety of tools to help people create a weekly menu plan, build a shopping list, and tips on saving money at the grocery store. There are links to their healthy recipe finder and sample menus to help get you started. You can even build your own cookbook within the recipe finder!



Thursday, May 29, 2014

Farmers Markets As Social Spaces

The first farmers markets of the season are just around the corner! The Wednesday Downtown Farmers and Artisans Market is opening in less than a week, with the Crescent City Farmers Market opening a few days later. It's time to get your veggies on! 

It's also time to dust off your market basket and visit with old friends because farmers markets are great "third places" in many communities, including ours. The concept of third places -- social spaces that are not work and not home -- was popularized by Ray Oldenburg in his book, The Great Good Place, in the late 1980s. Third places allow people to socialize with a cross-section of community in ways that are not bound by neighborhood or profession.

Farmers markets highlight many of the features of a classic third place:

  • They are neutral ground. Nobody is required to be there (except the vendors) and it is free to enter.
  • All members of a community can participate; third places often act as levelers, minimizing class barriers.
  • Conversation is a major activity. If you look around a farmers market, you'll see conversations everywhere. People who rarely see each other or see each other only in formal settings, are able to chat, share recipes, catch up on grown children, or make plans for seeing each other again.
  • They are accessible and accommodating. Farmers markets are often centrally located so that people can reach them easily and even walk or bike to them. 
  • There are regulars and anyone can become a regular. If you are yourself a regular at the farmers market, you know that there are people you can count on seeing. Some of them are the vendors, but others are people you see at the market week in and week out.
  • Third places are typically low key. They are wholesome and welcoming to all walks of life. You see young families, single adults, older couples...everyone can come to the market.
  • Farmers markets are cheerful or playful, like other third places. Even though business is being transacted, it feels happier and less stressful than other errands and shopping trips. Vendors and customers build relationships.
  • Third places become a home away from home. People look forward to returning and feel a sense of belonging and ownership. 
Third places are important centers for community life. At home, you see your family and immediate neighbors. At work, you interact with colleagues. In third places, you might see people from both home and work, but you also see parents of your children's friends, or their teachers; you see people from a job you left three years ago; you see friends from church or synagogue; you see the actors from the most recent local play; and you see people you recognize as your restaurant servers, supermarket checker, bank teller, and more.

Third places let us mingle and see our commonalities, while our immediate neighborhoods and work settings often divide us by economic class, race or ethnicity, and history.

I am definitely looking forward to buying fresh, local produce when the markets open next week. But I am equally excited to see the vendors again, to share recipes with people buying the same things I am buying, and to have a few minutes with a lot of great people I rarely see in my day to day life.

ag

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day is only a few days away, and barbeque and picnic planning is well underway. Unfortunately, sugary drinks and potato chips have become picnic staples here in the U.S. NPR recently revealed that Americans are eating only 1.5 cups of the recommended 2-3 cups of vegetables per day. The majority of these vegetables come in the form of processed potatoes and tomatoes, with only ten percent coming from dark green and orange veggies (sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, and other leafy greens).

A twelve-ounce cola, small by today’s standards, has over ten teaspoons of sugar. A great way to ditch the soda and “Rethink Your Drink”  is to make infused water. Simply add any combination of sliced strawberries, citrus, fresh herbs and cucumbers to a large pitcher of water and chill.

Since the holiday weekend is fast approaching, I thought it would be a great time to share some quick, simple, and healthy recipes that could be made as an alternative to salty and sugary treats for a picnic or barbeque this weekend.








































































         It’s looking like we’ll have nice weather to look forward to here in Crescent City. I hope you all enjoy good company, and even better food this weekend!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Toddlers and Tomatoes: Getting kids from 0-5 involved at your local farmers market


 
Image credit- drgreene.com


The beginning is finally in sight of the long-awaited farmers market season. There is fresh produce abound, and as an adult (who enjoys to cook), it comes easily to be enthusiastic about attending the farmers market. Some kids on the other hand, may need a little extra encouragement to have a positive experience at the farmers market that will make them look forward to its weekly occurrence. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy ways to get toddlers and preschoolers excited about coming along.

First 5 Del Norte encourages all parents to read, talk, and sing to their children to aid brain development and get a jump on early-literacy skills. There are simple ways to incorporate reading, talking, and singing into the farmers market experience.

1. Talk to your kids about food. Name and show different fruits and vegetables. Use words to describe their taste, touch, and smell. Talk about different colors, shapes, and sizes of produce.
2. Read a cookbook to your child, showing pictures to go along with the recipe or read a food-related story before making the trip to the local farmers market (We suggest Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert or Farmer’s Market Day by Shanda Trent).
3. Singing songs is an easy way to make fruits and vegetables more fun. Rhyming can also help to build a child’s vocabulary.

It’s also great to get the kids engaged while they’re at the market, in turn making your shopping experience pleasant and enjoyable! Children are naturally quite curious. Encourage them to ask questions to the vendors and farmers.  For example, “What is your favorite vegetable?” “Why do you like being a farmer?”

Try letting older kids carry their own reusable shopping bag and choose a few fruits and veggies they like, along with one new fruit or vegetable to try. When they feel responsible and included, they are more likely to get excited about the meal that comes from their selection. Let them become involved in the meal planning and preparation for the week. Two-year-olds can even help tear lettuce for a salad. Kids of any age can feel included by handing over the money to the farmer.

Exposure to healthy choices at a young age is an important building block for a positive lifelong relationship with food. Once kids are exposed to new things multiple times, they are more likely to try them (any even enjoy them!).  So bring your kids to all four of the local farmers markets happening in Del Norte County this summer, and maybe they’ll discover their new favorite vegetables themselves!