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Lawmakers prioritize improvements to school meal programs

February 25, 2019
In The News

VACAVILLE — School meals in California could contain more organic foods under a bill proposed Thursday by a local lawmaker.

The proposal would create a statewide organic food-to-school pilot program within the Office of Farm to Fork within California’s Department of Food and Agriculture.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 958, was authored by Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, whose district includes Dixon and portions of rural Solano County.

Under the program, school districts would apply for special grant money that would be set aside to promote the purchase of organic foods for school meals. That money would amount to up to 15 additional cents per school meal, Aguiar-Curry’s office said in a press release. Schools in districts that serve a high number of low-income children and teens who receive free or reduced-price meals would be prioritized for the first handful of grants.

“Farm to School Programs are a great way to provide more local, fresh, organic produce to our children’s school meals,” Aguiar-Curry said in a statement.

The lawmaker pointed to a similar program in Winters, where Aguiar-Curry once served as mayor, as an example of a similar program that has increased the availability of fresh produce and other nutritious food to schoolchildren. That initiative, known as the Winters Farm to School Program, does not specify if the produce offered is organic.

Aguiar-Curry’s office said the organic foods program would help students “become more connected to both what they eat and where their food comes from.” The lawmaker’s office said school meals “are a practical way to increase children’s nutrition,” particularly in low-income communities where those meals may be the only opportunity for children to receive nutritious food.

The initiative is at least the second by an area lawmaker this month to focus attention on improving meals served at schools.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, introduced legislation two weeks ago that he said would strengthen certain “Buy American” requirements under the federal government’s National School Lunch Program. Under his proposal, school districts would be forced to acquire food from domestic producers for school meals unless they receive a waiver to purchase food from foreign producers.

Garamendi, in a press release, said the proposal focused largely on improving the safety of food items in school meals and ensuring domestic food producers are prioritized over foreign sources.

“Even in Northern Californian and Central Valley farming communities, some school districts use taxpayer dollars to buy imported foods,” Garamendi said in the press release. “Some of those imported foods have been recalled due to safety concerns, when they could have been sourced locally in California.”

Garamendi’s bill has bipartisan support; it was co-authored by Rep. Doug LaMarfa, R-Richvale, who represents communities in the Central Valley. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor, which oversees the National School Lunch Program.