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By Aliye Aydin
California Certified Organic Farmers Newsletter
Volume XVIII, Number 1, Spring 2000
On December 1st 2000, I entered the school cafeteria at Malcolm X
Elementary School in Berkeley, accompanied by Jered Lawson, the
Project Coordinator for the Food Systems Project in Berkeley.
Immediately I was brought back to my days in the school cafeteria.
The cacophony of sound coupled with kids whizzing by me at lightning
speeds invoked a sense of chaos. We were just in time to catch the
first wave of kids for lunch hour that Friday afternoon. I was there
to "observe" the Food Systems Project (FSP) in action.
The Food Systems Project uses a whole systems approach to the study of
food to link Berkeley Unified School District students, their
families, the local community and local family farms. Through their
work in gardens, in preparing meals, and in health studies, students
gain an understanding of the way in which their own eating and food
choices impact the environment. The Project recognizes the school's
role, as part of the larger community, to promote family health,
sustainable agriculture and environmental restoration.
- Quote from Working Systematically
The FSP started out of concern for our children's health-the concern
that every child in the Berkeley Unified School District has access to
healthy food at an affordable cost. The project has many components,
including classroom education, hands-on gardening, fresh organic salad
bars in the cafeteria, after-school snack programs, and field trips to
local organic farms.
A full-service salad bar is one of the components of this project.
For lunch, the students have a choice of either the hot lunch (corn
dog, pizza, etc.) or a trip through the salad bbar, where they get to
pile their plates with fresh organic greens and carrots, seasonal
fruit and other items purchased mostly from organic farmers that sell
at the local farmers' markets. Also available are fresh local breads
and natural salad dressings.
After chatting with Regina McKengal, the food service supervisor at
Malcolm X Elementary, and watching her and her team interact with the
children and prompt them to possibly compose a balanced salad plate,
she invited us to join in and make our own salads. Jered and I
decided to have a go at it. Our plates full, we ventured into the
dining area to enjoy our lunch and talk to some kids, possibly about
their impressions of the salad bar. I ended up conversing with Ryan,
a fourth grader at Malcolm X Elementary. "Who are you?" he
interrogated me as we carefully fit ourselves into the tables. We
ended up talking about a variety of topics, but his impression of the
salad bar was overall a positive one. He said he chose to eat it two
or three times per week, and that the food was good. He liked the
fact that he got to choose what he wanted to eat and pile it up on the
After lunch, Jered and I took a tour of the school garden with a
science teacher at the school, Larry Kass, who is active in teaching
the kids about the connections between the garden and the food on the
table. We also observed Rivka Mason digging in the garden with a
group of 1st graders. The amount of dedication necessary to make
projects like these work became apparent.
There are other components of the FSP that Jered was organizing at the
time of my visit. One of these is to get organic hot lunch options
(lasagna, pizza, and others) in the cafeteria. Another work in
progress is organizing field trips to local organic farms. Where the
children can talk to the farmers and possibly see them in action.
This also gives the farmers a chance to share their talents as
caretakers of the soil, as well as providing a connection in the kids'
minds about where their food is coming from.
The FSP works in collaboration with schools in the Berkeley Unified
School District to improve the food in the cafeteria. Four of the
fifteen schools in the BUSD have salad bars. The role of the FSP has
been to "get the ball rolling" at different schools by providing the
slad bar, and hopefully the staff at the school will take the
initiative to continue to improve the food in the cafeteria. The
after-school snack program has 10 schools participating in the
Berkeley Unified School District, which consists of providing kids
with fresh organic fruit and organic apple juice.
The FSP is a project of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley. Also
born out fo the FSP is the BUSD Food Policy, which is composed of 12
goals and 12 strategies designed to ".promote family health,
sustainable agriculture and environmental restoration."
The money essential to funding a project like the FSP has come from a
few different sources. The FSP is funded by the USDA's Community Food
Security Project Grants. Another source of funding is a grant from
the California Nutrition Network - the money from which goes directly
to the schools. The FSP helps the School district secure this grant,
which helps fund the salad bar, nutrition education in the classroom,
cooking classes, and the Farm Field Trip Coordinator Position.
Projects like the Berkeley Food Systems Project have a lot to offer
CCOF farmers, supporters of organic agriculture, and the
sustainability of our future food supply. One of the major benefits
for farmers is direct marketing. Organic farmers have the chance to
secure customers and income by supplying to the Berkeley Unified
Understanding how our food choices can impact the environment can
promote understanding of other relationships in life. Teaching kids
how now relates to later (i.e., the cycle of life) is illustrated with
the complete circle of classroom education to application in the
cafeteria to composting scraps to digging in the dirt in the garden to
harvesting food and back to the table again.
Programs like the FSP nurture organic farms and farmers by helping
ensure a consumer. The health and bodies of the individuals
participating in eating healthy food are also being nurtured, as well
as mental growth by what kids learn in the garden about growing food
and in the classroom about taking care of their bodies. The FSP helps
ensure that the future will include the prevention of disease and
maintenance of a healthy body, which ensures a better quality of life.
It teaches kids now about possibilities for future work/career that
they did not even know existed, being a farmer, being a gardener,
being a health practitioner, or being an advocate of sustainable
living. It helps lift morale - we're doing something "good" in this
world that will help me out and those to come..
Just think about how different things would be for Bay Area farmers if
every school in the BUSD chose to buy their food from local organic
Unfortunately, this is not today's reality, School districts at this
time cannot afford to pay what the farmers need and deserve. The FSP
works to address these discrepancies by seeking funding from outside
sources, or possibly more money from the USDA. It has been learning
how to balance, to buy some food organic and locally, and still get
other food from traditional sources. Hopefully in the future, with
necessary funding, the amount of food from local organic farmers will
Implementing a project as comprehensive in scope as the FSP has not
necessarily been easy. There are a lot key players - parents, garden
coordinators, food service supervisors and workers, teachers,
community members, and the kids themselves - that affect the success
of this project, and coordinating with everyone effectively can, at
times, be tricky. However, through the hard work of many over past
years, the Food Systems Project in Berkeley has and will continue to
be successful in its goals, and hopefully set a model for those
looking to initiate something similar in their own community.
For more information, contact Jered Lawson at the Food Systems Project
at: 510-548-8838 or visit their website: www.foodsystems.org
Other helpful sites: