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School districts generate returns for San Diego County’s health and economy

December 19, 2014 (San Diego)--Farm to school practices are on the rise in San Diego County school districts, according to the 2014 State of Farm to School in San Diego County (State of F2S) released today by Community Health Improvement Partners (CHIP). All 42 San Diego County school districts participated in this year’s survey providing a comprehensive assessment of school food procurement and F2S activities in San Diego County and perhaps the most comprehensive assessment of a county’s school food procurement in the United States. Among the 24 districts that participated in last year's survey, 20 reported engagement in farm to school compared to 15 in 2013. Overall, 31 San Diego County districts are engaged in at least one of 18 farm to school activities measured for in the report.

“Farm to school is an important strategy in reducing childhood obesity. Increasing children’s access to fresh, local foods not only gets kids excited about eating healthy, but it also provides a major benefit for San Diego County’s growers, who produced more than $560 million in fruits and vegetables last year,” said Fourth District County Supervisor Roberts, a longtime champion in San Diego County’s fight against childhood obesity. “The State of Farm to School in San Diego County provides an important assessment of farm to school activities and a roadmap for continued success.”

Nineteen school districts promote locally produced foods at school. Twelve buy directly from local growers. Twenty-seven districts have a “local” foods definition; in 2010, just one district had a “local” definition. Furthermore, seven districts are engaged in robust farm to school programming, implementing 10 or more farm to school components such as local foods taste tests, staff education on farm to school, and direct local sales.

“As a food service director, I couldn’t be more excited about this report,” said Johnna Jenkins, 2014 San Diego County Farm to School Taskforce co-chair and director of child nutrition at Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District. “Schools have been working diligently to serve our children the very best in nutrition so they can succeed in school. This report not only substantiates our efforts, but it shows that we are excited about it. We’ve built a farm to school movement.”

One district listed in the county’s survey as not currently participating in Farm to School is the Grossmont Union High School District in East County.  Catherine Martin, spokesperson for the district, told East County Magazine, “We were actually one of the first districts to start on Farm to School. Our Food Services Director has been sitting on the Farm to School task force since the early stages. The process hasn't been without bumps as there have been issues issues with the farmers we were using, including the quality of the fruit that was coming in.” The district will be buying from local growers again in the fall, Martin confirms.

Update: The report is being updated to include Grossmont as a participant, ECM has learned.

San Diego County districts serve over 300,000 meals every day. Cumulatively, districts spend $65 million on food per year, including $11.6 million on produce and $3 million on local foods. The vast majority of fruits and vegetables grown in San Diego County leave the County to be consumed elsewhere. Shifts toward local procurement in San Diego County school districts present a major economic opportunity for local growers in addition to school meal quality enhancements. 

“We are excited to see the growing interest. You can’t have healthy foods without farms,” said Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego Farm Bureau. “In San Diego County, where we have the highest number of small and organic farms, business practices like farm to school help ensure our farms will be here tomorrow. We’re delighted to have the schools as partners and to know that locally grown product is nourishing school children in our community.”

The State of F2S report also identifies major obstacles and recommendations to systematically expanding farm to school. For some districts, the survey was the first time they had considered farm to school, calculated annual produce purchases, or measured their top five produce items. The report recommends that the San Diego County Farm to School Taskforce—a collaborative of 30+ growers, districts, and other key stakeholders, facilitated by the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative, a program of CHIP, working to increase consumption of local, healthy, seasonal foods and to improve food literacy—continue its efforts to standardize language and knowledge among farm to school stakeholders, integrate local procurement into contract bid solicitations, support simplified local product ordering processes, and further engage the top three produce distributors in farm to school.


About Community Health Improvement Partners

Community Health Improvement Partners (CHIP) is a San Diego non-profit collaboration of organizations who envision communities where everyone achieves optimal health. CHIP members include hospitals, health plans, community clinics, community-based organizations, physicians, universities, and the County of San Diego Health & Human Services Agency, among others. The mission of CHIP is to assess and address priority health needs through collaboration. Together, CHIP and its partners build communities that are physically, mentally, and politically stronger.

About the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative

The San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative (Initiative) is a public-private partnership with the mission of reducing and preventing childhood obesity through policy, systems, and environmental change. The Initiative is facilitated by Community Health Improvement Partners. Core funding for the Initiative is provided by the County of San Diego, First 5 Commission of San Diego County, The California Endowment, and Kaiser Permanente.

About the San Diego County Farm to School Taskforce

The San Diego County Farm to School Taskforce is a subcommittee of the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative, a program facilitated by Community Health Improvement Partners. The vision of the Farm to School Taskforce is that all San Diego County school children enjoy healthy foods that maximize seasonal and local products and bolster student achievement and wellness. Its membership includes school, business, and public health leaders, who actively collaborate to increase consumption of local, healthful, seasonal foods and to improve food literacy within schools. For more information, visit or contact director JuliAnna Arnett at or 858-609-7962.