Farm to School Initiative posed and presented | Agriculture

HOLTVILLE — The University of California Desert Research & Extension Center held a two-day seminar at the Holtville campus Wednesday, June 15 and Thursday, June 16 for an Imperial County Farm to School Initiative Conference.

The first day was specified for work shops aimed at teachers, principals, food service-staff, public health department, stake holders, and educators to come learn about the Ag-education curriculum offered by the University of California Desert Research & Extension Center initiatives.

“We talked about what is Farm to School,” said Youth Family and Community Advisor at UC California Extension, Yu Meng. “We also invited a group of San Diego group keynote speakers who shared their success stories as well as local teachers who also shared about their school gardens and programs.”

As per organizers, the California Department of Food and Agriculture highlighted a new grant that is available for $30 million this year and a projected $60 million next year.

“We want everybody in Imperial County to know that money is coming and we want to prepare everyone to apply for the grant,” said Meng.

Ag-educators informed how the Farm to School Grant works in three tracks: 1) for schools to apply to purchase local farm produce. 2) for farmers to scale-up their (production) industry. 3) for partnership collaboration with non-profit organizations, such as institutions like UC California’s extension campus, pending successful joint-effort agreements with schools and the farmers.

“The curriculum we present is all evidence based,” said Meng. “That’s what we do as a University of California in academics, we bring what is studied/researched on campus to the community. That is what we do as a corporate extension (that is based in the county) – every county has a corporate extension office.”

According to www.domyown.com, extension offices are departments located in local counties and universities. These offices are run by university employees and volunteers that are experts in local crops, landscaping, soil, gardening, pests, and more.

As per Farm to School’s objective, true to the mission of the land grant, University of California (UC) Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) connects the expertise of UC research in agriculture, natural resources, nutrition and youth development with local communities to improve the lives of all Californians. Imperial County UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) and Desert Research and Extension Center (DREC), as local entities of the UC, conduct regular needs assessments in IC, identify local issues, and conduct research and extension programs including: the CalFresh Healthy Living (SNAP) -Ed) and Farm Smart (Farm-to-School program). The project was carried out by UCCE and DREC collaboratively.

“We are based here to deliver (Ag-awareness) information so that to apply that information into the community,” said Meng. “No one can directly download our projected curriculum online but if we are contacted we can train staff and educators to apply our (designated) curriculum or one can come to Farm Smart to experience a new curriculum called Healthy Choice Through History. One part in class room and another part at field trip.”

Meng stressed how the event is important to the community/region.

“We are here today learning about agriculture, agriculture literacy, and food-nutrition literacy,” said Meng. “It is important when those that are young have that information (agriculture literacy and food-nutrition literacy) that will form their eating behaviors early and potentially into adulthood. The first day of the seminar was about raising an awareness of what we have to offer at and what funding is available to support that Farm-To-School effort ($30 million). ,

The second day, organizers informed, was designated to showcase the ag-research and extension done at the center along with the work advisors are doing by studying the different crops, feed-lots, and research topics.

“We wanted them to see the center because that’s what their students can see,” said Meng. “Our goal with this event was to improve educators and those who directly interact with students and their knowledge about agriculture so that they feel confident delivering that message to their students.”

Meng reiterated the various facets of agriculture in general.

“Farm to School is really a great opportunity to engage all the parts of the food system; the growers can sell to schools directly and shorten the supply chain, the schools benefit because they get fresher produce from the growers instead of food that gets shipped north first then makes its way back here (to Imperial valley). We want to shorten the chain to produce more sustainability,” said Meng. “For if the chain breaks for any reason, they can get food from the local growers. Everybody benefits especially local students because students they will know what is grown in the valley and how the valley is feeding the rest of the state.”

Farm Smart Program Manager, Stacey Amparano provided statistics for the session.

“Over 100 different commodities are grow here in Imperial County. Imperial County is #1 producer of alfalfa, sweet corn, sugar beets, Sudan hay, and alfalfa seed,” said Amparano. “And, Imperial County is also the sole producer of sugar beats in California. We are also the top-two producer in cattle, lettuce, broccoli, carrots, spinach, and dates. In 2011 Imperial County produced enough lettuce to serve 40z dinner salads to over four-billion people.”

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