Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fresh Fruits & Vegetables: Centerpiece for a Healthy School Environment


As a member of the CAN Food Team Blog Squad, I get the pleasure of live-blogging my trip to the Fresh Fruits & Vegetables: Centerpiece for a Healthy School Environment Conference.  I'm currently in Ukiah and have just attended the first day of the two-day training geared toward increasing the availability of fresh produce in schools.  This is Part 2 of a two-part conference that is held each year by Healthy School Environments, and is open to school personnel and community partners.  I've traveled down here with two garden coordinators, Angela and Suzanne, from the Network for a Healthy California in Del Norte, and so far this has been one of the best opportunities I've had to fulfill my mandated in-service trainings as a VISTA.

My traveling companions and I left Del Norte yesterday morning, giving us ample time to navigate the big school district van through the inclement Northern California weather at a nice relaxed pace, getting us safely to Vichy Springs Resort in Ukiah with plenty of daylight hours left in the day (thank you Daylight Savings Time!).  And it's a good thing we did, because our accommodations are possibly the best I've experienced on a work trip, and these grounds needed exploring right away.  Angela and Suzanne travel in style, and when after taking a dip in the natural mineral bath (which has been visited by the likes of Mark Twain, Jack London, and Teddy Roosevelt), I made the decision to always go on future work trips with these two and always let them choose the destination.  (kids, sometimes it pays to be a VISTA)

But of course, this isn't a resort trip, it is a work trip; lucky for us, learning about healthy foods in schools is hardly considered "work."  The conference started bright and early this morning with John Fisher from UC Santa Cruz's Life Lab Program and Deborah Beall of the CA Dept. of Education describing all the new developments that have been taking place in the world of food and schools; like Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Campaign and the USDA's release of the new Choose My Plate meal guide.  One of the best features of any conference you attend has to be the SWAG; these guys had a great selection of free seeds and starts, and I got a giant stack of informational fruit and veggie display cards (I take pleasure in simple things).

The main focus of the day was looking at ways to get more fresh produce into school lunch programs, whether it be through utilizing your school's garden, getting creative with the salad bar, or contracting with local farmers.  We heard from Michelle Malm and Pilar Gray, Directors of Kelseyville's and Ft. Bragg's School Food Services, respectively.  It's incredible to see what they have done with their districts' food programs through the years and you could see what drives them: sheer dedication and belief in combatting our societies ills by starting with the plate.

The end of the day was spent learning about waste management in school districts, focusing on starting recycling and composting programs at school sites, which is such an "easy win" for schools on a multitude of fronts: saving money, keeping kids active, opportunities for learning biology, engaging with businesses in the community, etc.

It's been a great day of conferencing, and tomorrow we have a series of sessions on garden-based nutrition education to look forward to.  In a few days I'll have a more comprehensive post about the entire trip, but so far, so good.  And now the mineral baths are calling my name!

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